The singer-songwriter genre is becoming increasingly popular among younger pluckier musicians who’d rather be earnest than glamorous rock gods. However, every emo youngster out there who has basic guitar-playing skills considers himself/herself to be a singer-songwriter, which is a mockery of the genre. Very few artists in India have made a name for themselves as singer-songwriters with their sheer talent and musical sensibilities and one such person is a musician from Kolkata – Nischay Parekh. Nischay is a precocious 21-year old musician and may still be a student of the Berklee College of Music but he has already played at sold out venues throughout the country and was a crowd puller at last year’s NH7 Weekender. Incidentally, Parekh would rather that people called him a pop musician instead of a singer-songwriter.
Quirky, quietly confident and massively talented, Nischay Parekh had always been interested in music – having started guitar lessons at the age of 11. His teacher just happened to be another Kolkata-based artist - Tajdar Junaid, who is a multi-instrumentalist and immensely talented musician in his own right who has just released a very successful album of his own. Although, Tajdar Junaid’s musical style is very different from that of Parekh’s, we wouldn’t have heard Parekh’s music without the insistence and guidance of Tajdar Junaid.
Parekh exploded onto the indie music scene last year and we suddenly saw him everywhere – from playing at A Summer’s Day music festival at Mumbai, which was headlined by Norah Jones, to being a featured artist at all four NH7 weekender festivals. Nischay Parekh is now the face of pop and indie folk in the Indian music scene and has gained a loyal following with his boyish charm and unique style. His pop sound, soulful words and unaffected style has drawn comparisons to Jason Mraz, John Mayer and Jack Johnson – which is high praise indeed. Unlike what we normally associate with pop music, Parekh’s music is replete with straight-from-the-heart lyrics, stripped down arrangements and squeaky clean vocals – showing that the genre itself has matured and Indian musicians are not afraid to be associated with it anymore.
At an age when most musicians are discovering themselves, he has already come out with his debut album – Ocean, which was released on 4th October, 2013. Although he collaborated with members of his band The Monkey In Me – Jivraj “Jiver” Singh (on the drums) and George Matthew Dylan Varner-Hartley (on keyboards) on the album, it is largely a solo effort. Other collaborators include the famed producer Miti Adhikari on the bass and Pedro Zappa, who provides additional vocals along with the bass duties. The first thing that any listener will notice about this 9-track album is that it is way too short for an album this good – lasting less than 25 minutes. Most of the songs are barely around 2 minutes in length and you will find the songs ending too soon much to your dismay while you are busy humming them. Sitting squarely in the pop-genre, all the tracks are soft and groovy and each song has the potential of becoming an earworm. The youthfulness of the tracks belies the heavy and grand themes that Parekh tries to tackle with his music – love, loneliness, longing and life.
The lyrics might be straight-from-the-heart, but they aren’t straightforward! This is why you will find yourself wondering why this album has a song called ‘Panda‘ on it. This is not a simple coming-of-age album but is a mature and restrained offering reminiscent of the music of Ben Howard and Paolo Nutini. Parekh’s musical style on this album can best be described as pop and acoustic with the honesty of country-music. The tracks are unpretentious, with infectious riffs and effortless melodies. The album starts off with songs that are clean, upbeat and very pop but as the album progresses, more synth-pop and R&B elements crop up that give the songs a slightly darker edge.
The first song on the album is ‘Newbury Street’, which is an excellent start to the album and is so polished and beguiling that is can be a very successful single. With a riff-driven intro and a very likable melody, you will soon find yourself listening to this track on repeat. This song seems almost like it was written in a stream of consciousness and talks about being ready for a positive change and the accompanying rush of uplifting emotions. Parekh’s soothing vocals, earnest lyrics and the very addictive melody make it very hard for you to get it out of your head.
The oddly named ‘Panda’ is up next with eccentric lyrics like “I used to be a Panda in my past life” and the song seems to be Parekh’s way to describe himself rather than love. This track is definitely more electro-pop and is one of the more complex tracks on the album. Another very catchy and lively song with unobtrusive vocals and it is a testament to how well he works with his bandmates from The Monkey In Me, as the track is seamless where no one musical instrument overpowers the other.
The next song ‘I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll’ is more folksy and acoustic and proved to be a very successful single earning him a legion of groupies. The bongos really underscore the folk element of the song and again Parekh keeps his vocals restrained, clean and painfully earnest. Laidback, cheeky and sweet, the background vocals lend a very breezy quality to the track but sometimes the song can sound more like a lament rather than a love song.
The album suddenly shifts to a very synth-pop track ‘Hill’, which is personally my least favourite song on the album. With muffled vocals and alarming squawks, this song does not flatter his vocals or his talent as an acoustic guitarist. The lyrics and the accompanying music lend a very eerie and disturbing air to the song. ‘Hill’ stands out like a very sore thumb and can come as somewhat of a rude distraction when one is so comfortably put in a state of cheerfulness with the preceding tracks.
Thankfully, the bad taste left by ‘Hill’ is quickly replaced by utter bliss as ‘Philosophize’ is a masterpiece of song – something you will not expect from such a young artist. Unlike the rest of the tracks on the album, ‘Philosophize’ is more piano or keyboard-driven with more of an R&B feel where Parekh dazzles the listener with his pitch perfect falsettos. The song does have some synth-pop elements but they never come to focus. The soothing tempo gives Parekh a chance to show off his vocals and control and lends a very relaxing note to the whole track. There are no musical interludes or dramatic tempo changes as every musical instrument used is there only to compliment the emotion and the words that Parekh is trying to get across and boy, does it work!
The next track called ‘Me and You’ is a very pop number and is a sweet romantic track and again is so sincere that it will leave you with no doubt as to why Nischay Parekh is such a “chick-magnet”. The languid lead guitars and extremely tranquil tempo never gets boring or monotonous and you will find yourself smiling to the song. It is just a happy sort of song that will give you a spring in your step and melt all your worries away. Again, his vocal finesse and control shines through even though there is no power singing involved.
‘Secrets’ plunges the track into the realm of psychedelia, with a very trippy intro complete with the buzzing of insects. This song is very short – barely over a minute and a half in length so you will probably write it off as an aberration. When you have heard so many excellent, upbeat and pop tracks and are in an album-induced state of calm, this track can disturb the peace slightly. However, overall this track is quite forgettable and does not seem to sit right with the rest of the album.
The album then moves into another laidback song ‘Ghost’, which is a bit R&B, a bit soul and a bit dream pop. Parekh hits such high notes on the song and with so much control that it lifts the whole track to a very ethereal level. With a groovy bass line and a piano drenched melody, the song can sound very lounge-ey sometimes. Like ‘Philosophize’, it is a very memorable track on the album and you will appreciate the fact that it is almost four minutes long giving you all the time to savour its intricacies.
The last and title track of the album makes for the perfect conclusion. With very effective hooks and sparkling riffs, ‘Ocean’ will make you want to listen to the whole album repeatedly. Bright easy vocals and a sprightly tempo allow the album to end on a high note. Add to this the playful backing vocals and summery feel of the song, and ‘Ocean’ will “stick to you like glue”.
What is most startling about the album is that none of the songs were recorded in a studio. Nischay Parekh and his band recorded most of the songs in his and Jivraj Singh’s family homes in Kolkata and in parks in the country and the United States. For a debut album, Ocean is uncharacteristically polished all thanks to legendary producer Miti Adhikari who also contributed creatively to the album. Nothing about Ocean betrays the fact that it is the debut effort of Nischay Parekh. Sublime, easy on the ears and filled with sophisticated lines, most of the tracks on the album have the potential of becoming a earworm. This cannot be said for most albums let alone a debut one. The fact that every single track can become a very successful single shows the talent and the ingenuity of everyone involved in the making of the album.
Ocean is like an exciting little gift with a bow tied around it. Most of the songs are devoid of dramatic intros, progressive build-ups and vocal acrobatics and this is why the album is so special. It shows the power of restraint, candour and youthfulness and will make you appreciate the artistry of these young musicians. There is hardly any negative criticism about the album and all I have to say is that be prepared to have the album playing in your head at all times once you have heard it.