After waxing poetic about his last two EPs, I had hoped desperately that the debut album by Prateek Kuhad would be a fitting follow-up. Prateek Kuhad’s mellow sound and soulful sensibilities have already garnered him a huge following and this was his much-awaited debut album that had a lot to deliver. Released on 21st January, 2015 – more than a year after his last EP – Raat Raazi, ‘In Tokens & Charms’ – his first full length album, showcases what Kuhad does best – stir up the soul of the listener with the acoustic guitar!
In Tokens & Charms far exceeds expectations and was well worth the wait. Even though this album is filled with stripped-down, acoustic guitar-laden songs, be prepared for an emotional turmoil. Kuhad sticks to his signature indie-folk and pop sounds and each song is crafted perfectly to tug at your heartstrings. It is quite evident that his use of minimal arrangements and honest lyrics has made him a hit at many music festivals and this album is chock-a-block with the kind of songs that his fans love.
Although Kuhad is comfortable singing in English and Hindi, and Raat Raazi consisted solely of Hindi songs, In Tokens & Charms consists entirely of English songs. In his efforts to create the album, Kuhad was supported by Sahil Warsi on bass, Nikhil Vasudevan on percussion, Jacob Cohen on cello and Danny Severance on the violin. He stays true to his signature style and the compositions are whimsical, charming and very easy to listen to. Intentional or not, one can definitely discern hints and influences from artists such as Ben Howard, The Lumineers and Paolo Nutini. Kuhad isn’t trying to tackle grand themes and philosophical topics with his lyrics – they are all love songs based on his personal experiences that make them so relatable and intimate. Bittersweet yet comfortable, his music benefits greatly from his style of singing, enunciation and clarity of voice. The album as a whole, including the cover image, has a very vintage vibe to it even though the songs are quite minimal and urbane and have the power to bring back memories of the past, simpler times, youth and innocence.
The first song on the album – ‘Oh Love’, hooks you in immediately with its folksy sound and catchy melody. It is an endearing track that is soothing and groovy at the same time. The percussion and the cello highlight the folk influences but don’t overpower the soft vocals of the song. ‘Oh Love’ quickly became a personal favorite and is one of the most unique songs on the album.
Kuhad moves onto a mellower track – ‘Holding on’, that reminisces about a past relationship. This bittersweet song starts off with just his voice and the acoustic guitars but quickly turns upbeat and summery as the percussion kicks in. The refrain is extremely catchy and so is the melody – don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming this tune in no time.
The third track – ‘Flames’ is immediately discernible as it has a guitar intro that shifts the album into the pop genre. Unlike the name, this song is anything but fiery although is it one of the few songs on the album that features the lead guitars so heavily. Unfortunately, it does overpower the entire track.
Thankfully, ‘Into the Night’ returned to the folk sound that is so unique to Kuhad and made me forget about the anomaly that was the previous track. What adds to the upbeat vibe of this song is the vocal phrasing and cheerful romantic lyrics. ‘Into the Night‘ will have you tapping your foot and will definitely bring a smile to your face and have you regretting the fact that it’s the shortest song on the album.
Unlike the previous track, ‘Go’ is gloomier with stronger vocals to add to the distressed mood of the song. Kuhad tackles the topic of heartbreak and parting with this track that is neither overtly sentimental nor melodramatic. Another personal favorite, ‘Go’ has a beautiful acoustic intro and the cello perfectly complements the song. The heartrending quality of the cello, especially during the refrain ensures that you don’t forget the track in a hurry.
This is followed by ‘Fire’ where Kuhad shows off his vocal range and abilities. The long instrumental beginning and the relaxed riff adds to the darker mood of this track. ‘Fire’ may not be as much of a standout as the previous song, but it is definitely one of the more memorable tracks on the album as it is more downbeat with a tinge of sadness. The album shifts tempo again with the next song – ‘Held You Tight’ that is upbeat and optimistic and has all the makings to be a great single off the album. Just when you though the album was getting a little depressing, this track pulls you right back out into a lively mood. The fast paced beats and bouncy melody of the song will have you shaking a leg.
‘Be At Ease’ is a more laidback track that is also bright and cheeky. The breathy vocals, leisurely pace and fingerstyle technique add to the relaxed attitude of the song. The broomstick drumsticks make the track gentle. This buoyant song talks about what we are all looking for from love – someone to be at ease with.
‘Cold Shoulders’ is even mellower but never gets dull or annoyingly slow. Kuhad’s vocals are especially soft here and the minimalistic arrangements make this song very dreamy and romantic. The final track of the album ‘Artist’ sounds like a beautiful tribute to a special woman and features an ethereal acoustic guitar solo. With sparse lyrics and long instrumental sections, one knows the curtains are coming down on this beautiful album.
In Tokens & Charms is a perfectly constructed album, starting off with an optimistic and uplifting feel, moving on to melancholia and a twinge of sadness and then back to bliss. It seems like the last two tracks were especially made to give the album a fitting end instead of an abrupt finish. This album shows why less is more and that even the most restrained compositions can be very poignant and expressive. Kuhad is back in the spotlight with this admirable follow-up to his two excellent EPs and even though the album is very cohesive, every song has a perceptible unique element to it. With In Tokens & Charms, Kuhad has clearly announced that he isn’t an amateur anymore – he’s an experienced and talented musician with an enviable style.