Top 20 Indie albums of 2019 so far

In just six-odd months, we’ve been spoilt for choice at the number of great independent EPs and albums that have come out. A bit of everything has emerged – dazzling debuts, experimental records, and releases from veterans who have managed to keep up a staggering amount of consistency. Here are the 20 top albums to have come out between December 20, 2018, and June 15, 2019.

20. BOWLS – Shed Winter

To relegate the impact of Dhruv Bhola on the Delhi indie scene to that of a mere hired gun would be selling him very, very short. True, his contributions are varied: from bass duties with Peter Cat Recording Co., to guitars for both Prateek Kuhad and Run, It’s the Kid. It seems fitting that his solo material would be a mix of the aforementioned acts. With Shed Winter, Dhruv takes it a step further and has put together a wonderful collection of songs whose only shortcoming is that it isn’t longer. There are influences from all the acts that he’s been a part of, yet the sombre reverb-soaked songwriting is what sets this EP apart.

19. Seedhe Maut & Sez On The Beat – Bayaan

The New Delhi rapper duo’s debut full-length album was heavily anticipated ever since they teased glimpses of what they had to offer in the two ‘Class-Sikh Maut’ tracks. Bayaan is a pure rap album with a well defined narrative structure. The songwriting is impressive, the skits do not feel gimmicky and the overall production is top-notch. Producer Sez On The Beat has by now mastered the art of producing a hip-hop record and is on a roll in this album with his suave selection of samples and beats. The vision and structure he brings to the table cannot be ignored.


18. The Koniac Net – They Finally Herd Us

The Koniac Nets’ eleven-song epic They Finally Herd Us follows the classic alternate rock preamble to a T. The songs tick all the right boxes with quintessentially aggressive drumming and bass lines colluding with agile, tireless lead guitaring and appropriately lax vocals. Founded by vocalist-guitarist David Abraham, the band also features Adil Kurwa on bass, producer-guitarist and vocalist Jason D’Souza, guitarist-vocalist Aaron D’Mello, Karun Kannampilly on drums and keyboardist and vocalist Mallika Barot. With songs displaying glimpses of punk rock, classic rock and some modern progressive rock breakdowns, the album is a robust progression for the band, consolidating their position as one of the most reliable rock outfits in the country.

17. Pulpy Shilpy – Slough

No stranger to experimentation, Delhi-based songwriter Gowri Jayakumar steps into new skin one leg at a time on her latest EP. The record is a definitive step away from her older work as both a solo singer-songwriter and chairman of “freak-funk” outfit Run Pussy Run. On Slough, Gowri amalgamates the many worlds of hip-hop, nu-disco, electro and synthwave with her established soul and RnB sensibilities, creating a wonderful marriage that only leaves us waiting for a longer release soon. ‘Love Machine’ is an instant standout, a banger for the future.


16. Taba Chake – Bombay Dreams

At first glance, Taba Chake’s Bombay Dreams might be a perfect example of what the uninitiated think of when they hear the word ‘indie’ in India — a singer crooning to an acoustic guitar. Just because of the sheer volume of songs that come out, this is one of the least liked categories. Obviously, you need to dive deep in Bombay Dreams to understand its beauty. The 26-year-old fingerstyle guitarist and singer-songwriter from Arunachal Pradesh enthrals on this album that has several powerful moments. He writes in English, Hindi and Nyishi, his tribal dialect. There are barriers broken on this album, which is reason enough to celebrate it. Eventually, it is Taba’s effortless and strong songwriting which make this an unmissable record from 2019.

15. Yung.Raj – Steppin’ Stoned

Inspired by the likes of L.A. beatmakers like Mndsgn and Knxwledge, Hyderabad-based beatboxer and producer Yung Raj dropped his third release of 2019, Steppin’ Stoned, on April 20th (yup, you heard us). With faster BPMs on the agenda, the 22-year-old does not compromise on the spirit. What his earlier releases WaterPipe Dreams and Recovery Package lacked in variety, Steppin’ Stoned makes up for with its motley of DnB inspired rippers. Originating from “a few shows with DJ Paypal earlier this year, which were inspirational,” Steppin’ Stoned holds five tracks armed with plenty of energy, from the frenzied ‘Lifted’ to the reggae-driven ‘Ruff Sounds’. Renewed sensibilities have injected some welcome frisson into Yung Raj’s production dynamics, enabling an execution that has reached the climax we’d hoped it would.

14. Hedrun – Drift

In a world inundated with choice, the knee-jerk motion is to look toward the familiar for grounding. It becomes rare, then, to find something truly moving out of the blue. Drift, the debut EP by Palash Kothari’s Hedrun is one such gem. In collaboration with Barmer Boys, Palash brings forth a nuanced approach to the union of electronic soundscapes with Rajasthani-folk, to the point where one begins to argue the two disparate genres were just meant to be together. Lush soundscapes swim in tandem with soaring vocals, with enough headroom for the listener to collect themselves and percolate.

13. Chrms – Lover Boy

18-year-old Veer Kowli from Mumbai, better known as electronic music producer Chrms dropped his album Lover boy in June to positive intrigue. The cracker demonstrates the youngster’s smooth-sailing command over a varied spectrum of pleasant sounds. Exhibiting a serious leaning towards ambient hip-hop and electronica, the album has him collaborate with multiple vocalists, creating a varied range of creative energies. All seven songs, distinct and brimming with personality, have terrific production values, with the bass and ambient intros often sounding disconcertingly visceral. The album has helped Chrms in declaring himself a fascinating artistic prospect to watch out for.

12. Pakshee – Pakshee

On the very first track of Pakshee’s debut album, ‘Raah Piya’, the band offers so much to the listener that it is impossible to stop wondering what quick surprise is in store next. And they do not disappoint for a single second of the 39-minute long album. Pakshee has sat on this album for over two years, spent enough time with it to make sure it is up to the mark and that the band members deliver their absolute best. In the process, perhaps unknowingly, Pakshee has ended up making one of the strongest debuts of the year.

11. The Revisit Project – Brown Man’s Funk

The Revisit Project’s latest offering is the stuff that’s made of jazz and funk fiends’ dreams. From the incredibly peppy ‘Did You Assume My Fender?’ to the charmingly breezy ‘Blues’d Not Bruised’, the album deals all the right cards. Also featuring a tribute to Indian cricketing legend Rahul Dravid, the band stays true to breathing life into the best of nostalgic trips. As the lead act, the saxophone adds the right amount of verve and fervour to the songs. This superstar of its ilk refuses to age, and it shows.

10. Rounak Maiti – Waiting on The Comedown

The follow up to Rounak Maiti’s Bengali Cowboy boasts the most intimate and atmospheric release so far. His voice has the texture of muslin against the velvety production, which is infused with coarse guitars, glistening keys and shy percussions. The nine tracks have an almost fluidic quality from track to track with ideas and emotions that ebb and flow with every soaring crescendo. Rounak’s songwriting prowess goes beyond catchy one-liners and infectious hooks and pierces the heart of our consciousness in its abstract home turf. The album is a singular emotional experience with its pristine production, precisely arranged instruments, clever songwriting and a beautiful voice to top it all off.

9. Winit Tikoo – Tamasha

Winit Tikoo’s Tamasha had been in the oven for many years, and it shows. The album features elements of acoustic, alternative and folk-rock and peppers it with instruments like the sarangi, harmonica and flute to give it a fusion edge. Tamasha wears its emotions on its sleeves and tracks such as ‘Faiz’, on which Tikoo pays homage to the greatly admired Urdu poet, and ’19:47′, a gut-wrenching narration of the partition by author S. N. Tandon, is a testament to that. It’s a well-balanced album strewed with upbeat breathers such as ‘Gds’ that manages to stay grounded throughout.

8. Ditty – Poetry Ceylon

Even with the abundance of independent music in recent times, there has been a dearth in quality singer-songwriters. Ditty changes that with her latest album Poetry Ceylon. Her warm and evocative vocals combined with masterful poetry make it all the more charming. The theme of her debut record, the ‘earthiness’ comes through. It is her commanding vocals that don’t run astray at any point which give Poetry Ceylon a strong backbone. The soft and folksy instrumentation that also combine nature’s sounds are minimal, but brave choices and Ditty firmly commands the listener’s attention for thirty-odd minutes.

7. Parekh and Singh – Science City

After their well-received debut Ocean, supplemented with videos dripping in well-proportioned aesthetic, many wondered what the duo from Kolkata would bring next. Relishing the challenge, Parekh & Singh upped the ante, plunging deeper into their own ubiquity to deliver a stellar eleven-track follow-up. Supported by great singles ‘Summer Skin’ and ‘Hello’, Science City ricochets between themes of existential dread and telescopic views of the universe, all neatly ensconced in glitchy/gleamy instrumentation. Recent developments indicate an indefinite hiatus, but we are definitely rooting for these guys to return.

6. The F16s – WKND FRNDS

On the Chennai alt-rockers’ latest EP WKND FRNDS, “the mood is a little more summer-y”. This EP sees The F16s unwind. Having released Triggerpunkte back in 2016, the three-year reprieve has allowed them to embrace a new dream-pop identity, one that is head and shoulders above their previous lo-fi keenness. Favouring quality over quantity, this is their most cohesive release yet. The new song-writing is tangible, the drum production palpable, the bass is zesty, and there’s even a new horn section. This EP is one for heavy rotation on the band’s discography. They’re having fun on the record, and so are we.

5. Tarun Balani – Dharma

While his last solo release dates back to 2012, Tarun Balani has meanwhile kept himself busy in the art of collaboration. A three track EP with Abhinav Khokar here, a stint with the prodigious Sandunes there. Always the present performer, the drummer has further distilled his brand of jazz music into the stellar Dharma, an eight-track exercise in patience and introspection. The songs are shorter and more concise, a clear indicator of growth from the much longer and winding tracks of his earlier efforts. Sparsely produced and wonderfully arranged, the album is an example of an artist in complete control of his instrument and sound.

4. Sid Vashi – CAREFUL WALKER VOL. 1

It is hard to believe that Sid Vashi’s latest (which, by the way, is only available on Bandcamp due to sample licensing issues) is nothing but a collection of edits. The body of work doesn’t feel disjointed at all and serves as a great teaser to what’s more to come from the musician. The album’s sonics can be described in one word, shiny. Each element is chiselled to perfection to deliver the perfect auditory experience.

3. Gauley Bhai – Joro

Gauley Bhai’s sensational debut album Joro brimming with ten inimitable songs released to widespread acclaim in June. A band of four Indians that croons in Nepali, Gauley Bhai comprises vocalist-violinist Veecheet Dhakal, bassist Anudwatt Vigya Dhakal, guitarist Siddhant Mani Chettri and drummer Joe Panicker. The versatility of the album is in its ability to manipulate sonic moods and scapes at will. The ambition is simple and vivid, despite the lyrics might not be demographically potent. Three West Bengal boys and a Malayalee lad might bond over communism and their shared love for seafood, but the folks at Gauley Bhai had a greater cause to attend to- to produce sensational music in Nepali, a language and cultural diaspora that desperately await an entire nation’s basic, humane respect.

2. PCRC – Bismillah

PCRC’s music does not conform to any genres, not really. So they have created their own sonic bracket. With Bismillah, the band refines and perfects the sound that became synonymous with PCRC through its previous equally good, if not better, releases. Their voice on this new record is more intimate, more personal, more political, more self-aware. With ten beautiful tracks, this full-length album is definitely one that is going to cement the band’s standing in the Indian independent scene as well as their not-so-slowly and surely growing global presence.

1. Lifafa – Jaago

Lifafa’s Jaago is awfully Indian. It is the PCRC frontman’s own unique brand of India without exoticising the homeland. The smooth, rich baritone that Suryakant is best known for pulls extra weight on Jaago, as opposed to its near non-existence in previous releases. Enveloping it are layers of bizarro-electronic soundscapes, composed of synths, which Sawhney makes from just about anything. The album is a double-edged sword. It serves the familiarity of Indian acoustic music set against experimental electronic soundscapes. The finesse with which these two seemingly conflicting musical sensibilities are made to complement each other is the magic of this record. Through Jaago, Lifafa seems to have achieved an artistic catharsis.

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