The Kochi-based pop-folk quartet When Chai Met Toast needs no introduction to the Indian masses. With their ever-cheery, uplifting deliveries, they have dominated the independent music scene for about four years now, having gathered a considerably large following across the nation. Before the pandemic-induced hiatus, they showered a bunch of singles and EPs onto their discography and did what they do best, touring away to glory. Now, the release of their much-awaited debut album When We Feel Young is a continuation of their general theme, of spilling sunshine and spreading positivity through their exclusively major-key-compositions, which seem to be a mass-mesmerizer in pandemic stricken times.
Captured in focus throughout the record, are the emotions one experiences while growing up. “We have all fought with parents, had a great time with friends, fallen in love, have our hearts broken and made big plans for our future. Listening to these eight songs will make even a 70-year-old feel young again.” What the band also claimed the record would feature, is a considerable amount of experimentation with musical instruments and new collaborations. However, a strong genre-defining wash, in message and sound, still stains their canvas yellow, like a trademark – overriding the impact of any claimed musical intervention.
‘Constellation’ lays the foundation of the album with a bright, melodious intro riff, along with Ashwin’s pop vocal delivery. Coupled together, they carefully introduce a pre-chorus backed by minimal drums, to lead into a chorus that feels like a firework of sounds. The chorus features the intro riff, but is enveloped in a well-curated multi-instrumental arrangement, spanning it wide. A portion of the bridge supports a dainty acoustic guitar, immediately before the final lap of the chorus takes over, shouting gratitude. What seems to be a part of When We Feel Young‘s experimental crusade is included in the second track, ‘Ocean Tide’, which is back-boned by a fingerstyle ukelele riff. A bittersweet stream of nostalgia that rushes in with the chorus is the highlight of the pop score, along with the unexpected synth piece that the bridge offers us.
In the space between the two songs, one could sense the stability and perhaps even derive the essence of the next song. However, what one couldn’t guess is the difference in dynamics. Achyuth’s expertise shines through on the next and title track, ‘When We Feel Young’, when the layered guitar counterparts paint a shade more grey than black or white. Lyrically, the song speaks about ageless love, about that warm feeling that comes with witnessing older people stay comfortably in love. A breath of fresh air, the track complements this pleasant feeling as Ashwin croons, “Into the night, I feel alive, at fifty-nine, when we feel young”.
‘Kahaani’, which was also released as a single in 2020, is an all-Hindi venture worded by many’s favourite lyricist Ankur Tewari of the Hindi rock project Ankur & The Ghalat Family. “In ‘Kahaani’s’ case, it so happened that the lyrics were first written in English but we all felt that the tune would suit a Hindi song more”, explained Gopakumar. Mellow, acoustic guitar and a quiet banjo complement the simplicity of the lyrics, making space for the listener to recollect memories of their special ones (and resist the urge to call them). Speaking of, ‘Remember’ is an extension of this sentiment, taking off as relatively mellow and staying in the same current throughout. On ‘Break-free’, we see Ashwin really break free as a polyglot, singing a verse in Tamil and a chorus in English; the track otherwise sticks to the same general progression, in sound and spirit; this is what makes the timing of ‘Maybe I Can Fly’, the next and final track on the album, significant.
The final track features a build-up in the likes of a mellowed out Maroon 5 and Mumford & Sons, making it arguably the most pop score on the record. After a list that demands half your emotional attention and forces out a tonne of hope, the refreshing combination of Palee’s synths and Sailesh’s booming drums on ‘Maybe I Can Fly’ make you want to just get onto the dance floor already and not feel a single thing. The nature of the song is appropriate in the sense that it’s climactic, leaving the listener wondering what the sudden shift in sonic direction could mean for the band’s next release.
When We Feel Young was supposed to be released in the latter half of last year, but for the pandemic. The quartet decided to release the album anyway, sooner than anticipated. As Ashwin says, “It was a bad time for everyone and we thought releasing new songs would make us all feel better.” And so, while the record can seem heavy to those not acquainted with turning a blind eye to reality, it could make the grueling process of looking for hope in these trying times easier for a majority of us.
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