• Tue, Sep 17, 2019
Reviews

Tienas Puts Out Spacey New Album On Azadi Records

7.0

album Reviews Jul 02, 02:07pm

‘O’ represents Indian hip-hop’s forays into cloud-rap and contemporary sounds  
 Photo Courtesy: Tienas

So here’s where we are now. Hip-hop is the big dog at the moment all over the world, and now it is here as well. In previous reviews of rap and hip-hop, I noticed that even at the ridiculous pace at which the genre is growing in the Indian scene, the instrumental side of it seemed intent on sticking to this skeletal sound which involves a hard beat and big bass and not much else. There is room to grow in this area, I believe; so much variation exists in international hip-hop because both subject matter and instrumentals draw from many different sounds and styles. You have boom-bap, the old 90s jazz-rap sound, and most recently, trap and Soundcloud rap. Well, with ‘O’, the new album by Tienas, lush production and emo-rap has officially arrived on our shores. And it’s arrived in a fantastic album to boot.

 


To be fair, it’s wrong to categorize ‘O’ as a single-genre release. It seems like Tienas (the alias of Mumbai artist Tanmay Saxena) has influences from almost every era of hip-hop and the album is sort of a sampler of all these different styles and sounds. However, he doesn’t commit to each stylistic choice so much that the whole album sounds disjointed. There’s an instrumental backbone to the album that relies mainly on sampled sounds and lush, melodic arrangements. And man, does it make a huge, huge difference when compared to the bare, gritty stuff that has dominated Indian rap since it’s blown up. More of this, please. From top to bottom, the album is littered with everything that’s been big the last few years and before – woozy instrumentals that consist of keys and reverb a la Soundcloud rap, trap hi-hats and drums that have dominated the last 3-4 years of rap worldwide, autotuned crooning vocals that made half-singing half-rapping cool again, huge 808-like bass sounds that have been around since forever. But there are also some old-school boom-bap grooves and jazzy, quiet samples. There are also some big synth parts that echo old Kanye West and some quiet, skeletal parts that sound like something Frank Ocean would do. It’s by miles the most varied release from the scene in a long, long time.

 

 

“It’s just a fun collection of songs and sonically, it does so many things that are fresh and new in the Indian scene. If you spend your days finding the tone of most popular rap a bit too stale and one-note for your taste, Tienas will not disappoint.”
- RSJ

 

 

The 13 tracks on here are no less. Tanmay presents a mix of everything, and that’s very apparent from the album’s opener ‘Cyclone’. It’s a proper 2019 song in that it has the autotuned vocals, a fantastic vocal sample that is the main melodic component of the song, muted drums and a cute emo intro. One thing about this song and album is that it’s unapologetically accessible. Tienas doesn’t care if it sounds modern or whatever as long as it’s fun to listen to. And this is just the first of all the earworm songs on ‘O’. Prabh Deep also has an awesome verse on the song; he sounds phenomenal over beats like this. ‘Dangerous’ is in the same vein except it’s an unabashed love song. If you enjoy stuff like Juice WRLD or Post Malone or even some old XXXTentacion, you’re going to find a lot of that melodic vocal style and production on this album. ‘Backseat’ is one of the catchiest songs here; the hook is awesome and the reversed intro is a great touch. The piano melody behind everything is fantastic too; basically you can turn this up and enjoy it multiple times. ’10-18’ is a shift in tone to total 90s New York hip-hop. Some people might say the guitar sample in the instrumental is Nujabes-like, but I think it sounds way more like some Wu-Tang, Tribe or Reasonable Doubt-era Jay. Tanmay also flexes his rapping chops and gets the tone about right; that braggadocio and slow flow pays tribute of the genre. ‘Die Romeo Die’ (featuring a Sez On The Beat beat) has a slightly obnoxious hook but the vocal tone is a lot of fun if you’re into what every ‘Lil’ is doing these days. ‘Lanos (Reprise)’ is what would happen if you told Kanye to sing about heartbreak (get it?) over something like the outro to ‘Runaway’ or some somber keys. It’s a well-produced drum-less track that’s a great change of pace. ‘Of Kings And Queens Approximately’ is one of the most adventurous tracks here and doesn’t feel like it should work in the tracklist, but work it does. It’s a weird poppy take on Bon Iver backed by trap drums church organs and about two people in love but only have each other. There’s a cute verse at the end that sounds like a plea to a loved one to wrap it all up. This track does a lot in 3 minutes. The rest of the album is a bunch of shorter songs that explore one musical idea for a verse and maybe a hook, and that’s it. ‘Seedhe Maut Freestyle’ is just that; some sharp bars over a decent, if by-the-numbers beat. ‘Flowers From An Old Manor’ is the most skeletal beat on the album with some introspective bars about loneliness. The hook here is fantastic but probably far too short. ‘Peace Of Mind’ is jazzy as hell and probably Pharrell-inspired. The vocal crooning does start to wear thin by the time you listen to the first 4-5 tracks, but thankfully the album is structured that you don’t get more than a few songs that sound similar at once. The furious, fast verse at the end is pretty disjointed and stick out a bit too much, but it’s par for the course as far as change-ups go. ‘Nice Guy’ is an attempt to destroy your audio device and comes damn close to accomplishing that; the beat is super hard and Tanmay’s vocals are an audition for a metal band. He’s growling and yelling throughout this track, and it’s great to experiment, but maybe this isn’t the biggest success. It’s still sort of a banger though. ‘Juju’ is more auto-croons and chill beats; in some ways these small tracks seem like afterthoughts and add-ons that kind of undo the great work the other song do on ‘O’. The outro, however, is great. There are a ton of transitions and cool effects throughout the 7-minute track (pretty long for the genre) and a ton of different vibes. It goes from jazzy sampling to gangsta rap to some vaporwave and ends up on some electronic stuff that would fit right in on a Majestic Casual compilation or something. It’s a crazy journey and a way to sum up the album.
With ‘O’, there’s no use searching for narratives or structuring or high-concept plotting. This isn’t meant for that. It’s just a fun collection of songs and sonically, it does so many things that are fresh and new in the Indian scene. If you spend your days finding the tone of most popular rap a bit too stale and one-note for your taste, Tienas will not disappoint.

 

Watch the album prelude "Tide" below:

 

 

 

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