Debanjan Chowdhury

Top 15 Tamil Film Albums of 2018

It was a pretty good year overall for Tamil, and Southern film music. The gamut of quality of soundtracks in Tamil films recorded a sharp change around mid-2018. The first half was bleak for the most part with occasionally good albums. Not to mention the strike that the film industry went on for nearly two months. The second half, thankfully, flourished. Sam CS and Yuvan Shankar Raja are the most prolific composers of the year – each has seven original Tamil film albums (and a partial album) to their credit.

There were cases of one or two pretty good songs failing to make a good album – Mr. Chandramouli, Adanga Maru (Sam CS), Kaali (Vijay Antony), Sketch (Thaman S), Imaikkaa Nodigal (Hiphop Thamizha). We look at the best wholesome soundtracks (audio releases in the calendar year 2018 till date) where songs add up to something more.

A brief nod to ones that barely missed making the Top 15: Amutha (Arun Gopan), Diya (Sam CS), Iravukku Aayiram Kangal (Sam CS), Kaala (Santhosh Narayanan), 2.0 (AR Rahman).

15. Kannan – Thamizh Padam 2

Thamizh Padam 2 took many by surprise as, at the risk of sounding condescending, no one expected the album to be this good. To set the context, the movie is a sequel to a parody. The first part had one good song (out of four) by the composer Kannan, but that’s about it. Kannan has stepped his game up in the sequel – the result is a pretty good, diverse album with nine songs.

‘Kalavarame’ is a beautiful, tricky composition that folds complex phrases into the tune – Chinmayi and Pradeep Kumar handle effortlessly. The semi-classical touches also sit very well in this song. ‘En Nadanam’, arranged as a duet between Sharreth and Vijay Prakash, is a similarly wonderful composition for the parody sequence that plays out on screen. Ujjayinee Roy is heard after a long time in the overt and delicate ‘Vaa Vaa Kaama’. The soundtrack may not be a keeper, but sure is one of the better ones this year.

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


14. NR Raghunanthan, Yuvan Shankar Raja, Sharan Surya – Om

Director Bharathi Raja’s Om is one of the unlikeliest entries in our list this year. The film unfortunately didn’t take off at all; but it wields a solid 12-song soundtrack credited to three composers – NR Raghunanthan, Sharan Surya and Yuvan Shankar Raja.

Of the nine songs by NR Raghunanthan, the best is ‘Anbulla Kadhala’ that has an excellent tune going for it. Singer Abhay Jodhpurkar is at his finest this year, with top-notch songs across languages. Alisha Thomas has never been used for a melody like this, and she sounds great. The song gets another, equally beautiful, version ‘Idhayathin Thirayilae’. ‘Thoova Mazhai’ does remind us of only umpteen songs on rain, with odd English verses thrown in. The soundtrack’s best, however, is the (only) song composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja – ‘Saattayin Munaiyil’, a semi-classical song with a gorgeous orchestration.

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


13. Ved Shanker – Thorati

Composer Ved Shanker has maintained a low profile since his debut in 2011. In Thorati, the composer delivers his best output so far. The soundtrack with six songs and two instrumental pieces thrives with rustic sounds and words by Snehan.

Roping in Manickam Vinayagam, Chinnaponnu, and Anitha for the first song ‘Potta Kaadellaam’ on the content of daily rural lives is clever. Anthony Daasan breezes through the familiar zone in ‘Kullanari’. ‘Saukaaram Pottu’ is a lilting duet sung by Vijay Prakash (who gets into his ‘Innum Konja Neram’ groove) and Kalyani Nair. The latter shines more in ‘Yelle Yelle’, whose only downside is that it is very short. The same holds for Vijay Prakash in ‘Usura Urukki’. The soundtrack as a whole works very well. But, unfortunately, it is imprisoned in an obscure movie.

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12. Sam CS – Vanjagar Ulagam

Sam CS had several releases this year, most of them turning out to be fairly decent. Vanjagar Ulagam is arguably his best, since the superhit Vikram Vedha last year. Even in the limited scope of this 4-song album, Sam CS tries some wonderful sounds and styles, and succeeds.

‘Kannanin Leelai’ is a composition on the traditional hymn. The song is an interesting fusion, with the classical parts reminiscent of the title track from Kanda Naal Mudhal composed by Yuvan Shankar Raja. The rock parts are even better. Swagatha Krishnan (a regular in Sam’s albums) does an exquisite job on the vocal front.  The jazzy ‘Thee Yazhini’ is one of the most unique compositions in Sam’s repertoire, and it works despite Yuvan Shankar Raja’s vocals (who actually is good here). ‘Kannadi Nenjin’ is a functional, background material rendered characteristically by Santhosh Narayanan. The swing in ‘Kirukkan’ aided by a fantastic western arrangement works wonderfully. The album manages to pack a rich variety in a short time.

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11. Ghibran – Aan Dhevathai

Aan Dhevathai is composer Ghibran’s best work this year among his three releases (others are Viswaroopam 2 and Ratsasan). It is a very short album with four songs but quite compelling nonetheless. This is only director Thamira’s second movie, after the debut Rettaisuzhi (2010) which also had a lovely, offbeat soundtrack by Karthik Raja.

Vineeth Srinivasan is in his usual fine form in ‘Nigara Than Nigara’. Ghibran constructs a simple melody and builds a lovely orchestration. The song has a brooding familiarity in places (the charanam phrases have a vague semblance to that of Ilaiyaraaja’s iconic song ‘Poove Sempoove’) but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. ‘Malarin Narumanam’ is a nice twist on Ghibran’s standard Sufi fare. Chaitra Ambadipudi soars in ‘Pesugindren’, a sweeping melody with lovely interludes (this song might as well be Ghibran’s interpretation of  ‘Aahaa Kaadhal’, Yuvan Shankar Raja’s composition for the 2013 movie Moondru Per Moondru Kaadhal).

Aan Dhevathai may have a familiar soundscape, but there is no denying that it is one of Ghibran’s best in recent times.

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


10. Dhibu Ninan Thomas – Kanaa

Composer Dhibu Ninan Thomas, who made a promising debut last year with Maragatha Naanayam, has come of age with Kanaa.  This sports movie album is very much an underdog album of the year. The album has five songs and all the songs work quite well.

‘Oonjala Oonjala’ is the best song of the album, sung by Sid Sriram. The titular hook is adequately charming, the beats are so groovy. The classical interlude is a fantastic touch, thanks to a brilliant Niranjana Ramanan (the kind of fusion that can easily be mistaken for a Sam CS composition, given its release this year). A surprisingly good Sivakarthikeyan, with his daughter Aaradhana, and Vaikom Vijayalakshmi turn ‘Vaayadi Petha Pulla’ into such a fun song. The simple and catchy tune of ‘Othayadi Paathaiyila’ finds a good match in Anirudh Ravichander’s vocals. The underrated album is a clear favorite this year.

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9. Yuvan Shankar Raja – Pyaar Prema Kaadhal

In Pyaar Prema Kadhal, composer Yuvan Shankar Raja also donned the producer’s hat for the first time. Perhaps that may have pushed him to deliver one of his loveliest albums in a long time. The 12-song soundtrack for the romantic comedy is showcase of its composer’s strengths in his comfort zone.

A look at the track-listing can trick you into thinking that this is a western album (the titles go ‘High on Love’, ‘Never Let Me Go’, ‘Secret Window’, etc.). The soundscape is mostly western in instrumentation but neatly folds within the familiar palette of Yuvan Shankar Raja’s yesteryear hits. ‘High on Love’ is Sid Sriram doing what he does best by rote; the song’s tune is extremely catchy, as are its Violin stretches and interludes. ‘Never Let Me Go’ and its variants are the best songs of the album, fantastic throwback to the composer’s peak early 2000s era (especially his style in Selvaraghavan’s movies). Shweta Pandit is often good in Yuvan’s compositions, despite pronunciation slips – she adds enough mystique and charm here as well.

The impressive nostalgic soundscape of Pyaar Prema Kadhal is among the year’s best.

Listen: Saavn | Youtube


8. Anirudh Ravichander – Kolamavu Kokila

Kolamavu Kokila is composer Anirudh Ravichander’s best this year (the others being Thaanaa Serndha Koottam and Petta). Anirudh owns the black-comedy genre with a delightful background score. The songs furtively slide into the screenplay of the movie, and often stay in the background, as it unfolds.

The single ‘Kalyana Vayasu’ is this year’s best example of a runaway hit. The song (that ran into plagiarism allegations, which the composer quickly put to rest having already obtained the rights from the musician Mantra) video became even more viral – the tongue-in-the-cheek song, and its choreography, is reflective of the tone of the movie itself. Jonita Gandhi and Anirudh sing a lovely duet ‘Orey Oru’, the kind of composition that Anirudh does best, keeping the arrangement to a bare minimum. ‘Edhuvarayo’, ‘Gun-in-Kaadhal’ despite being functional tracks make for a good listen. Anirudh’s stamp is most evident in ‘Thittam Poda Theriyala’ with a lovely Sitar interlude.

Kolamavu Kokila finds Anirudh in the fine form that was last evident in the horror-comedy Rum (2016).

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


7. Santhosh Narayanan – VadaChennai

Santhosh Narayanan followed up a lukewarm Kaala with another thematic but a more fulfilling soundtrack for Vetrimaaran’s VadaChennai this year. The soundtrack is rather elaborate and diverse, with eight songs and three instrumentals, and the score is fitting.

Sid Sriram is on a roll this year and owns ‘Ennadi Maayavi Nee’. Amorphous and free flowing, the song and Sid Sriram’s vocals are incredibly addictive. Dhanush’s unpretentious singing is apt, which it rarely is, and the tune is very catchy in ‘Goindhammavala’.  The album’s dominant sound comes in the form of gaana, and ropes in top-of-the-line artistes like Gaana Bala. The soundtrack’s best is ‘Kaarkuzhal Kadavaiye’ sung by an impressive ensemble – Sriram Parthasarathy, Vijaynarain and Ananthu. The song employs flute as the lead instrument to a gratifying effect. ‘King of the Sea’ is a wonderfully grand instrumental piece that effectively uses horns and choir.

Santhosh Narayanan has more than justified the director’s decision to try new sounds, departing from his usual affiliate GV Prakash.

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


6. Yuvan Shankar Raja – Peranbu

Yuvan Shankar Raja spanning a career of two decades is making a point that he is relevant today. He hasn’t had many memorable hits in the last several years – Moondru Per Moondru Kaadhal (2013) and Idam Porul Yeval (2014). This year is a quite remarkable return to form, with two soundtracks making the top 10 list. Director Ram’s Peranbu meets the consistency of Yuvan-Ram’s previous collaborations (Kattradhu Thamizh, Thanga Meengal).

In Peranbu, Yuvan concocts a brilliant 4-song soundtrack. Interestingly, all the four songs are solos, backed by able vocals of Vijay Yesudas, Karthik, Sriram Parthasarathy and Madhu Iyer. The songs evoke imagery that we often associate with Ram’s movies. ‘Dhooramai’ sung by Vijay Yesudas, for example, paints a vivid picture of the sprawling landscape and character’s mood alike.  The soundtrack may be short, but it speaks volumes of its composer who once used to deliver such albums at a frenetic pace.

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


5. AR Rahman – Chekka Chivantha Vaanam

Composer AR Rahman has four releases in Tamil this year, since 2014, and the only one that made our list this year is Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. As is the case with many of the composer’s albums lately, his work in Chekka Chivantha Vaanam was polarizing. But the way Mani Ratnam has used the soundtrack as part of the score, or rather the way the soundtrack has materialized from the fragmented bits of the score, is terrific.

Among the highlights to pick from the album, the most striking is perhaps singer Shakthisree’s phenomenal singing and the arrangement in ‘Bhoomi Bhoomi’. The song courses through fragmented stretches with Shakthisree finding new ways of projecting her voice – almost frantic end segment and a rousing mid-segment that holds the song together. It is rejoicing to see the good old Rahman in ‘Mazhai Kuruvi’, and the dreamy vocal harmony by Anuradha Sriram and Shweta Mohan in ‘Madura Marikozhundhae’. The album may not rank high in the collaborations of Mani Ratnam-AR Rahman, but is undeniably integral and honest to the screenplay (a la Raavanan).

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


4. Ajaneesh Loknath, Darbuka Siva – Nimir

Nimir was one of the first soundtracks of the year, and it took more than half a year to better this. The movie is a remake of the Malayalam original Maheshinte Prathikaaram, with a highly-regarded album of four songs composed by Bijibal. Two composers, Ajaneesh Loknath (whose home turf is Kannada) and Darbuka Siva, come together for the Tamil remake and deliver one of the finest original albums this year. Nimir is also a longer and a more commercial album with six songs.

Ajaneesh Loknath composes two simple grounded melodies that lyricist Thamarai writes. Especially, ‘Nenjil Maamazhai’, sung by Shweta Mohan and Haricharan, is an incredibly poignant-sweet melody. Darbuka Siva outdoes Ajaneesh in quantity as well as in quality, with four songs to his credit. Darbuka’s work is top-notch is the three solos ‘Geedhaara Kiliye’ sung by Sathyaprakash, ‘Poovukku’ sung by Shweta Mohan and ‘Yaenadi’ sung by Haricharan. ‘Geedhaara Kiliye’ especially is a contender for song-of-the-year. Nimir is a refreshingly good and a solid commercial Tamil soundtrack of recent times.

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


3. Govind Vasantha – Seethakaathi

This year marks Thaikkudam Bridge violinist-singer and composer Govind Vasantha’s proper debut in Tamil film music (ignoring the iffy Oru Pakka Kathai). What a phenomenal year this has turned out to be for him! Seethakaathi is the first of the two albums in our list rounding up really high. This case is particularly striking because the full album was released only a couple of days ago, barely ahead of the movie release.

The soundtrack comprises four songs and three instrumental pieces. The word is already out that Govind Vasantha’s score in the film is terrific and moving. The instrumental pieces are precisely that – they are immensely affecting. The haunting choir of voices, a lovely flute piece, and a melancholic refrain of violin and tabla make ‘The Journey of Ayya’ an emotional ride. ‘Theme of Seethakaathi’ is a less-embellished version of the Journey theme (and an instrumental version of ‘Uyir’), led by simple Piano chords. ‘Isai’, that has rain and thunder as a constant backdrop, on the other hand achingly explores the flute segment of the Journey theme. Among the four songs, ‘Avan’ sung by Agam band’s Harish Sivaramakrishnan is easily one of the best compositions of Govind Vasantha in his career.

The entire soundtrack is a winner and a mighty good follow up to the other beast of a soundtrack by Govind (coming up in the list) this year.

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


2. Santhosh Narayanan – Pariyerum Perumal

Santhosh Narayanan composed three albums this year (VadaChennai also landed high in our list) – Pariyerum Perumal is in many ways his best. It is a landmark album in the composer’s career, owing to the significance of the theme of the movie and the way the album teases it out. The songs ‘Karuppi’ and ‘Naan Yaar’ are two instances where the composer, along with the director-lyricist Mari Selvaraj, is completely invested in the story the movie is devoted to tell.

The montage sequence of ‘Karuppi’, the surreal cinematography and the unpredictable materializing of ‘Naan Yaar’, a song that is too careful to jolt the frozen frame of the movie’s closing shot and its meaning ‘Vaa Rayil Vida Polama’ are textbook illustrations of good songs turning great in the right context. In the album, Santhosh Narayanan also delivers a beautiful composition in the form of ‘Pottakaatil Poovasam’ that is incredibly well-sung. It is a timely reminder of Santhosh Narayanan’s gifted strengths.

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music


1. Govind Vasantha – ’96

Govind Vasantha’s ’96 has been the front-runner for the year’s best soundtrack since its release. Without surprise, but not without nearly-good competitors (one by Govind himself), it finishes at the top in our list. ’96 is one of the best Indian film soundtracks of recent times. Each of the songs in this 8-song album lived up to the promise of the first violin bit and Chinmayi’s vocals that came with the film’s teaser.

Govind Vasantha and ’96 team exercise great care in every department: recruiting two wonderful lyricists who out-do each other, giving the movie characters the same voice throughout, roping in two of the best singers today (Chinmayi and Pradeep), and making the soundtrack an integral part of the narrative. Govind has played so well to his strengths in marrying immersive melodies with melancholic orchestration time and again this year.

Soundtracks like ’96 come few and far between. The very rarity of it renders the album deserving of the top spot.

Listen: Saavn | Apple Music

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