2018 has been a wonderful year for the independent music industry. Independent acts found new listeners hungry for a different kind of music and a safe space to create. Fresh, experimental music took the cake this year. Genres like funk, jazz, pop and electronic were the most well-received, while rock acts offered innovation and expertise in what seemed like an already saturated genre. Here is the list of best indie albums that came out in 2018.
20. Skyharbor – Sunshine Dust
As if all of our existential crises needed another boost, Skyharbor went ahead and dropped their nihilistic take on the world this year with Sunshine Dust. The album features chilling and eerie pianos, unrelenting heavy metal instrumental passages, stripped back garage rock riffs and even some moments laced with a bit of EDM.
The band boldly traverses through a wide variety of sounds, genres and moods from inducing neck sprains to nursing them. As one of the most experimental releases this year, the album is hard to compartmentalise.
However, the infectious passion and impressive musicianship of each member of the band leaves the listener engaged from beginning to end as that one friend we all need to carry us through our weekly scheduled existential meltdowns.
Mumbai-based Smalltalk made a strong debut this year with its four-track EP, Tacit. The band is ambitious and explores different styles, ranging from R&B, funk and soul, and stays true to its groovy essence.
Tacit is impressive in both sound and production. The album begins on a strong note with ‘You Don’t Even’ and keeps getting better with every track. ‘Come Back’ is the other song where the arrangement notably stands out.
With just four songs, the band has given us a taste of their potential. The EP is a clear demonstration of Smalltalk’s willingness to experiment and be bold at a nascent stage in its career.
Everything falls into place if you have the country’s best bassist and arguably the best drummer featuring on your album. Free Spirit, the second full-length album by guitar whiz Chandresh Kudwa is an eclectic mix that features his dexterous pick wizardry on the guitar and showcases his experimentation with various sub-genres of rock throughout the 33-minute runtime.
The record begins with ’18 Again’, and it’s a straight-up explosion of slick guitar licks and Bank’s relentless drumming. The highlight of the track is Dey’s short slap bass solo which works brilliantly as a teaser for what’s about to follow in the next eight tracks.
One of the most outstanding tracks in the album is ‘Pink Star’. It has the potential to take a roaring arena of fans through the cosmos.
Chandresh Kudwa is one of the best guitarists in the country, endorsed by the very best composers in the country (AR Rahman, Amit Trivedi, SEL to name a few). An album this good, featuring the best talents in India right now, is honestly more of an expectation than an aspiration and the Free Spirit doesn’t fail to meet it.
It is bonkers what some of the bands are able to achieve with only a DIY approach. This stellar debut by Manipur band Lo! Peninsula is a blend of psych rock, dream pop and shoegaze.
The six songs – of which some are lengthy compositions – talk of constellations and troubled minds. The use of everyday sounds is aplenty. The band relies more on sound than vocals, a common element in modern psychedelia, to express the overarching theme of the album. Other than the top-notch production, there’s tons of great melody too, for both instruments and vocals.
Even if you’re someone who doesn’t pay close attention to the lyrics, some of the words sung by Nitin Shamurailatpam will definitely reverberate with you. The dreamy, reverb-drenched vocals are pure magic.
AKA Lo! Peninsula is definitely one of the landmark shoegaze, psych rock EPs to come out of India especially at a time when the genre is only picking up pace in the country.
Singer-songwriter extraordinaire Dhruv Visvanath made a triumphant return to the scene this year with the release of his widely acclaimed sophomore LP The Lost Cause. Like his previous releases, Dhruv delivers an incredibly personal and touching experience through his stripped-back and introspective lyricism.
However, the main selling point of the album is the poignant and masterful instrumentation which envelopes the soul-searching agenda of each track. To call this album merely an indie-pop album would be to severely undercut the depth and detail that it has going for it.
His vocals are smooth and laced with emotion on every note. The production is lavish and is very likely to leave the listener stranded in its elaborate labyrinth of sounds.
The band knows its way around a big stage and a large crowd, and after its sophomore release this year, it is clear that the Local Train can also work its way around the top charts. With only two albums, Vaaqif coming out three long years after their debut Aalas Ka Pedh, the Local Train enjoys the biggest fanbase a rock band has managed to garner in recent times.
They set the standards and fans’ expectations really high when they had crowds singing their songs back to them at concerts after the release of only their debut album. Then, considering how big their debut was, Vaaqif falls slightly behind and inevitably suffers from the sophomore slump.
However, for a new listener with no prior knowledge of the band’s repertoire, the new album might just be the best Hindi rock album of 2018. The first single from Vaaqif, ‘Khudi’, was still a massive hit with the college-going rock nerds, the band’s sweet spot in the market.
What is great is that the band is not afraid of experimenting at such an early stage in its career and is willing to take the risks that come with the pressure of making great art. The unexpected, experimental nature of the album holds promise of an evolving sound and a smooth transition to an even better follow up to Vaaqif.
Mumbai-based guitarist, Kush Upadhyay needs little introduction to anyone who’s been paying attention to the bands and session musicians of renowned acts all over India for the past few years. After polishing his sound over three previous EPs, Kush finally dropped his much anticipated full-length project, Soon You’ll See The Old this year.
The album is an introspective and melancholic journey exploring the inevitability of change, heartbreak and loss on a bandwagon built on nostalgic sounds from the 80s and 90s.
We are treated to the entire spectrum of rock music from unrelenting arena rock riffs to upbeat and finger-snapping tunes. The production by Blackstratblues does justice to the impressive musicianship of Kush and the other musicians supporting the album.
Perspectives is Anirudh Varma’s“attempt to bring together a community of musicians, and their diverse musical sensibilities and work in a space that would allow them to explore their perspective and identity within the context of contemporary Hindustani Classical Music”.
Anirudh’s album features a staggering sixty-five artists from across the country, which is a brilliant effort at such an early stage of a musician’s career. The pianist and composer incorporates a world fusion approach on this album, using jazz and blues alongside Hindustani classical.
If one had to pick a single track to explain Anirudh’s vision, it would be ‘Alhaiya Bilawal’, where western choir harmonies support a primarily classical-flavoured song to exemplary effect. It took Varma two years to put together the record and the final product is worth the time and effort.
The band took its sweet time, almost ten years, to release its debut album, Tumse Na Ho Payega. The band spent that time in finding their collective sync which shows on all of the nine tracks of the final full-length product.
The guitar shines throughout the record, as do the passionate lyrics. They try a bunch of different sounds on different songs, for which they occasionally succumb to some rock clichés from the 80s. However, after perfecting its sound over ten years, the band is confident of the music it is making and the determination is what comes off as the most attractive quality of the album.
The chemistry of the band, more than anything else, makes the album a pleasant listen.
The band’s unique satirical take on everyday Indian life is endlessly hilarious and accessible by Non-Tamilians and Tamilians alike. WithBaemaani, we are treated to a beautifully produced set of tracks featuring completely different aesthetics and genres: almost like a tableau, while striking a balance between a dark tone and satire.
The album simmers with authentic south Indian charisma infused with jazz, funk and soul with hints of metal and hard rock and also flavours from all over the nation and abroad. It also doubles up as a social commentary that questions the status quo of our society and the state of affairs in the country. Even while handling topics that are decidedly mundane, the lyrical presentation is extremely innovative and fresh, which makes this an entertaining listen.
Their first EP Yarns was a disjointed synthfest, often missing rather than hitting the mark. Mumbai-based electronic duo Paraphonik’s second outing, Silhouettes, hits the bullseye. Sid Shirodkar and Shatrunjai Dewan have produced one of the most sophisticated electronic earworms of the year.
The record features more synth elements than can be counted on your fingers, yet it manages to sound like it’s four out of the same cloth.
On Silhouettes, the duo is liberal with its vocoder infused melodies. The words often get lost in accompanying arpeggiated synths, but that’s nitpicking. Dewan and Shirodkar create a lush soundscape and you wish it lasted a bit longer once the drones recede in final track ‘Liberation Day’.
The standout track from the six-track record is ‘Frissons II’, a sequel fitting to the standout track ‘Frisson’ from their previous effort.
Itni Jurrat? is the third album by Mumbai rockers Daira. It’s apparent that the band has mastered the art of coming out with a full-length album with intricate story telling, themes and solid structure.
Piyush Kapoor’s voice is commanding throughout the album and is reminiscent of another Mumbai rocker who went on to do bigger things in Bollywood. This is the band’s darkest album yet, with nihilist themes running astray from one verse and leaking into the following track. One of the highlights of Inti Jurrat? is the breakdown amplified by Kapoor’s legato wailing right before the chorus in ‘Mazedaar’.
Where will they go from here? Signs and previous records suggest up north.
After flirting with classic tunes of Hindi music’s golden era and giving them their own funky twist, The Revisit Project released its first compilation of six original songs in January 2018 in Here We Go.
The diversity of sound on each track highlights the skills of each band member and the uniqueness of the band’s music as a whole. While the super funky ‘Rough and Straight’ is an easy crowd-pleaser, the mellower songs on the record like ‘Take a Leaf’ also resonate with the listener equally. The saxophone keeps switching places between the foreground and the background, while the percussions and drums have a conversation of their own.
The band is very modest and passionate in its first offering Here We Go, which only raises expectations for some more honest and funky music from its upcoming sophomore album, Brown Man’s Funk.
In the fantastic year that 2018 has been for pure instrumental records, Submarine in Space’s Wavelengths has been one to charm. Wavelengths is a conclusion of three years of solid work. Inspired by styles including old-school jazz and Hindustani classical, in its new album, the ensemble talks about “how people from different time eras in the world are always in sync”.
Standing at seven tracks high, Wavelengths’ run-time of 45 minutes makes for a snug listen. Right off the bat, Madhur’s bass radiates from the inside out. Although each track is more or less seven minutes in runtime, none outstays its welcome. Coming out of the tail end of this album, what’s most compelling is that each instrument shines. Both individually as well as in the grand scheme of the record and beyond. Everyone has a moment, whether it’s a big finish or a centrepiece or a repeating motif. The band coaxes its listeners to come aboard its sonic submarine and join it on a ride, and what a ride it is.
Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Alisha Batth’s new EP Prologue is a powerhouse debut. Immensely inspired by the likes of Patti Smith, Ani Difranco, Nick Cave among others, Alisha finds herself meddled in the punk to folk gamut. Alisha’s new EP is a tight-knit six-track fabric with each cut more visceral than its predecessor.
She released two singles in 2012 under the EP Flood in collaboration with longtime friend Shourya Bali who has penned tracks for the new EP as well.
Alisha’s raw voice is the brick and mortar of the EP in its fullness. Her raspy voice takes centre stage, set against the backdrop of some backing guitars. Her music serves as both weapon and shield as she manoeuvres through ideas of love, fear, and redemption. It’s a record with a big heart and an even bigger gut.
Laxmi Bomb’s first full-length album, following the two EPs that came out in 2014, is a beat-fueled rant that lasts almost an hour, short only by a quarter. Each of the album’s 11 tracks was written as a commentary on the issues that plague our society, from the obsession with white skin to insatiable desires. The band, like in its other releases, does not hold back in terms of delivering the real truth. In fact, on Bol Na Ranti, they turn the usage of idiosyncratic, explicit lyrics up a notch and deliver a passionate, powerful album.
Laxmi Bomb has been screaming about the reality of societal norms and paradoxes since 2014 and with Bol Na Ranti, looks like the audience is finally ready to listen.
It has been a big year for the New Delhi bred singer-songwriter. From playing gigs on different continents to contributing to original soundtracks of Bollywood films as well as influential web series, Kuhad has done it all in 2018. This includes the release of arguably the most successful and popular independent release of the year in cold/mess, along with a music video that went viral almost immediately after it was released.
The 6-track EP tugs at your heartstrings and makes you keep coming back for more till your eyes are all dried out. With a strong team of creative minds backing his talent, Kuhad has managed to put out content that attracts not only the masses but also the critics, making him a catalyst in introducing independent music to a wider audience.
With a massive release like cold/mess in his bag, Kuhad has become the model for how an independent artist should go about making and releasing new content.
The record is exactly what you would expect from an experienced band. Swarathma plays to its strengths, and the folk-fusion sound comes forth nicely. From ‘Aasman Ki Dukaan’, that has an uplifting quality to it, to the absurd ‘Beta Sweater Pehno’, the album doesn’t lose the listener in the 47-minute long runtime.
Mridangam maestro Viveick Rajagopalan incorporates the rhythmic language of Konnakol, spoken syllable that are similar to Hindustani and Carnatic classical percussion bols, used to represent rhythmic ideas, and creates a wonderful canvas for the different MCs to spit their verses on.
This EP is filled with a unique sound, and his influences right from electronic to jazz come across brilliantly. ‘Bol Rap’ that features MC Mawali, MC Tod FoD and MC Mayavi (the trio features in three out of five tracks) has a touch of synth that gives the whole song a more youthful feel. ‘Ta Dhom’ features Swadesi and is one of the best independent songs of 2018. It’s groovy, it’s energetic, it has meaningful lyrics and its a lot of fun. It’s fitting that the EP finishes on ‘Just Bols’, which has the MCs perform Konnakol for a minute and a half because this is the root of the entire record.
There’s a seamless amalgamation of what Rajagopalan calls ‘vocal percussion’ with poetry. The poetry rests beautifully within the rhythm and groove that he creates and it is his mridangam that is the hero of the entire EP.
Unlike last year, we haven’t had as many good hip-hop records emerge from the independent scene in 2018. Viveick Rajagopalan has created a unique sound, a meeting point of rhythms, a sub-genre for hip-hop in Ta Dhom Project, one of the finest works of music this year.
Did he make a deal with Mephistopheles? There’s no way to know. How else does one come up with such a strong debut? The Emerging by Solan-based guitarist Sutej Singh is a masterpiece. It is complete.
The album has fully realised themes, Sutej is in control throughout the 54-minute runtime. Singh recruited a team of international talents to realise his dream debut. The orchestral elements were rendered by Australian composer Leon Ross and the drums were written by UK-based Scott Higham. The standout tracks from the eight-track album are ‘Timeless’, ‘The Emerging’ and ‘The Comeback Trail’.
For a YouTube taught guitarist, he has the technical ability and dexterity of a veteran. The songwriting adeptness and an ear for intricate details dismiss any idea anyone might harbour that The Emerging is a fluke.