Best albums of 2021 so far

Top 20 Albums of 2021 so far

10. Fopchu – Tall Tales

Fopchu, the Delhi-based electronic duo, brainchild of Shantam Khanna and Siddhant Subramanian, conjure a surreal musical experience. They’re not just an experimental music act, they’re a moment in today’s independent music scene. They had a wildly successful set at the 2020 NH7 Weekender, leveraging the digital concert experience to their advantage, becoming one of the most remembered acts of that weekend.

In 2021, they took the music from that set and released an EP titled Tall Tales. The 5-track EP is imaginative and quirky, combining an immersive sonic experience with the duo’s love for bizarre comedy and puns.

Every track on this EP offers a different kind of escape. It’s both a reflection of the bizarre times we’re living in and a world away from this one. With Tall Tales, Fopchu assured fans and onlookers that they’re just getting started on a sonic journey that is sure to entertain.

9. Bipul Chettri – Samaya

The Kalimpong-born and New Delhi-based singer-songwriter released his third collection of songs this year. A lockdown album, this one was written and recorded in its entirety after covid-19 hit the country in 2020 and is one of the many great musical offerings of these otherwise hell-ish times.

The 5-track EP sees Chettri hopeful for a better future, trying to understand time itself and the futility of trying to control it. He made the entire album almost completely in solitude, which adds a beautiful rawness to the album; he seems in complete control of his voice and his acoustic guitar, more than he has before. His swift but smooth fingerstyle picking adds a depth to the songs but never steals focus from his thoughts. The album sounds unburdened with expectations (of himself or his fans) and takes the form of peaceful contemplation.

8. Dot. – Khamotion

More often than not, hype does not work in the favour of a creative project. Even so, Dot. managed to have a smooth release month this June-July, despite the anticipation around her first official release since her breakthrough tracks on YouTube in 2017. The only popular criticism of her EP Khamotion seems to be the fact that her popular track ‘Everybody Dances to Techno’ did not make it to the release. While subverting expectations, Dot. has put together a very interesting album.

This is an entirely different Dot. from what her fans know of her from YouTube. She is full of pep and jazz, but still leading with her writing, which has always been her strong suit. The fact that this whole thing was recorded and produced as part of a college assignment gives it a sense of detachment from the bigger trappings of the music industry. It is more innocent and honest, and clearly not made for pleasing a larger group of listeners, even larger than maybe her university’s faculty. Almost as if putting it out was an after-thought. Even if it was not, it still introduced the world to a Dot. that her fans were not expecting but wholeheartedly open to.

7. Apartment Upstairs – 4 Year Escalator

Singer-guitarist Rohan Pai and drummer Shourjo Chatterjee released their debut EP Two on the Line as Apartment Upstairs in 2019. It was a good EP, but two years later, they are out with a more confident 4 Year Escalator and through the 15-odd-minutes, that confidence is firmly on display.

The EP opens with ‘I’ll Be With You’. There’s a lot going on, there’s jazz, there’s soul, there’s hip-hop, and it’s all very groovy. From Abhay Sharma’s steady saxophone to Fakeer’s rap in the second half, the song works wonderfully. ‘Surround Me’ sees Tarang Joseph flex his muscles on the synthesizer. On the closer ‘Mahua’ Amrith Raghunathan aka Doc Awes, who has produced, mixed and mastered the EP, adds a barbershop quartet to the track that juxtaposes wonderfully against the chaotic and heavier riffs.

Apartment Upstairs refuse to be boxed on this record. They hop from soul to funk to hip-hop and rock and do it with equal parts ease and finesse.

6. Rohan Ganguli – King of Summer

An ode to a city never sounded this complex and gritty; well, that was until multi-instrumentalist Rohan Ganguli arrived on the scene with his album, King of Summer.

This 9-track album is a rhythmic jazz masterpiece that strikes all the right chords. Assembled to perfection, each track on this EP is a journey in itself. These tunes spark joy, provide elevation and ultimately, engulf you in their complex embrace.

Of the title track, ‘King of Summer’, Ganguli admitted that “I was on a steamer on the Hooghly. The skyline of the city beyond Howrah on either side was breathtaking under the just settling in monsoon rain, decrepit yet splendorous. Life on the boat and around moved in its own languid pace. It was slow and had a swing, much like the fanfare of an approaching elderly King. I wanted to capture that regal laziness in music. ‘King of Summer’ is a tribute to my city. It is also a story of my eternal love affair with this city. Here’s to Kolkata, my beloved city and home.”

All this poetry and more translates to a haunting moment in the independent jazz music scene.