Young and enthusiastic, Black Letters is a band that is taking its baby steps into the Indian music scene. These earnest and eager musicians hail from Kochi and are currently based in Bangalore and Chennai and are touring extensively. They may be new to the scene but they have toured the college circuit and have gathered a loyal following with good old-fashioned clean rock tracks. Black Letters started off as a metal band but soon realized that their sound lies in the alt-rock genre.
Their sound is catchy and groovy that is reminiscent of Incubus and Kings of Leon. Black Letters’ songs are emotionally charged and powerful yet retain the finesse and restraint of a much more experienced group of artists. The band consists of Sharath Narayan on vocals and guitar, Arjun Radhakrishnan on bass, Akash Chacko on drums and Sarang Menon on guitar. Formed only a few years back in 2008, the band has risen steadily from being just another college band to one that is getting a lot of attention and praise in the Indian music scene. One of the reasons for their success is that they were able to stay away from playing only covers and started creating some excellent original material in their early days itself. From playing college gigs, they have moved on to bigger venues around the country and have even played at renowned music festivals such as The Go Mad Festival in 2013. In the span of a few short years, Black Letters has already come out with a debut album called Shapes On The Wall that was released on 27th February, 2014.
The album features original alt-rock tracks that are easy to listen to and the whole album is very polished and well put together. While listening to the album, one can’t help but find a certain Incubus-esque riff here and a Death Cab for Cutie-esque section there but every song manages to be come across as fresh and original. The band has kept itself squarely in the alt-rock box and does not once try to step out of its boundaries and this works for them because their songs do not sound like a hodge-podge of genres. Instead of being contrived and forced, they have chosen to keep their songs simple and honest, giving them an album they can truly be proud of. Every track on the album flows smoothly into the next and all the songs are consistent. Smooth yet impactful, each track is perfect for a large concert, out in the open, or for a loud solo singing session while driving.
‘Roam’ is the opening number of the album and is a quintessential alt-rock track. The song starts off with an energetic drums and guitars and gets mellower as the vocals kick in. Sharath has great control and vocal range, being able to convey immense power without ever getting screechy. With extremely catchy riffs and a fluid melody, the track is upbeat and very earworm-y – a great introduction to the album.
This is followed by a personal favorite – ‘Find You’ that is built-up to with a somewhat-militaristic drumbeat and a guitar drenched intro but it soon smooths out and becomes rather laidback. Again, this track shows off Sharath’s admirable vocal range and control and even though the song is passionate, it never gets too loud or aggressive. With a very appealing hook and riff, you will suddenly find yourself humming along.
‘You Say’ is one of their first original compositions and is a crowd-pleaser at their live gigs. Although the intro is stripped down and soothing – featuring only the guitar, it leads into some very affected vocals. This is the one track where the vocals fail to impress and it seems like the band is trying too hard to make an impact. Nonetheless, this was one of their early songs and it was meant to be big and showy and one can see why it is such a success at their live performances.
The next track ‘Old Firebox’ is rather funkier and lifts the tempo of the album. Packed with delightful riffs and vocal acrobatics, this is a track that you should look out for. The well placed changes in tempo and snappy chorus will keep you on your toes and interested in the track through its entirety. ‘Old Firebox’, with its creative composition, shows how far the band has come since their days of being a metal band that used to play college gigs.
Another gem in the album is ‘Skygazer’ that features eccentric vocals and musical interludes. Like the previous track, ‘Skygazer’ has some ingenious riffs that make the track so memorable. It is relatively relaxed but has tempo shifts that keep it consistently interesting. As the song progresses, it becomes more atmospheric and large that is bound to get you pumped up.
‘Tomorrow’ has the most languid intro and breathy vocals by Sharath that beckons the end of the album. The song is hopeful and talks of the future and how one should let go of a dark past and move on. Like most of the other songs on the album, even though the track is a quite laidback, it can rouse and inspire you.
‘Remembrance’ is a fitting end to the album – soft, soothing and bittersweet. It is the perfect farewell and will leave you feeling content after you are done listening to the album. It has a discernible yet calm bassline that compliments the tranquil mood and melody of the song beautifully. As the name suggests, the song speaks of bygone days and lasting memories.
Shapes On The Wall is a well crafted album that progresses effortlessly. The band has done away with backing vocals on most of the tracks, which turns out to be a great decision as it allows Sharath’s impeccable vocals to shine and keeps the tracks tight. Most of the tracks do not deviate from the alt-rock genre and just when you think the album is getting monotonous, the songs get funkier and groovier providing a nice change in the middle. There are so many tracks in this seven-song album like ‘Old Firebox’, ‘Find You’ and ‘Skygazer’ that have the potential of becoming very successful EPs, which goes to show that the band has put a lot of thought and effort into constructing this album. As Black Letters’ debut offering, the album effectively showcases their talent, growth and zeal. The songwriting is simple and transparent yet earnest and the album tackles topics that every young adult can relate to – broken dreams, uncertain future, partings, memories and the desire to break free. This added to their innovative compositions makes the album a must-have.