Friday, January 01, 2010

Albums and composers of 2009

Happy new year to you all! 2010 is here, so I guess I need to get my act together otherwise I'll still be publishing my 2009 lists in march 2010!! (Which is not as rare as it should be, because there is always some potentially good movie from previous year that I don't get to see till well into the next year). Anyway... moving on to this list..

As I mentioned earlier, once I had made a long-ish list of all the more important songs of the year, the statistician in me couldn't NOT do at least a little meta-analysis to see whether the list data could be churned to come up with a top albums/top composers list that might sound reasonable when compared to my own vague impression of the year. This turned out to be more or less correct, except some little surprises. In retrospect, I could've done a better job than the highly simplistic [-rank ∝ rating points] but who cares? :) The ranks don't really matter anyway. This is just an opportunity to write about some of the good stuff of the year gone by. So, here you go...

Top 5 albums of 2009

5. Gulaal by Piyush Mishra.
An album that probably takes some time to grow on you because it is so unlike most other songs that we get to hear nowadays. I don't know why Anurag Kashyap thought of Piyush Mishra, but it definitely turned out great. How many times do we see a movie set in either the past or the not-so-urban india whose music, even if good, sounds exactly like any other movie (Asoka, I'm looking at you!)? Gulaal sounds exactly like it should. raw, rustic, and perhaps most importantly, violent! I haven't yet seen the movie, but I am told that the movie actually fails to live up to the power of the songs.
'Ranaji' was probably always going to gain early attention of music channels due to its lyrics, but it is the all-male songs of the album that give it its real flavor. Although 'Aisi saza' is a great song, you don't really think of it first when you are thinking of Gulaal's music. It is the Rahul Ram tracks (Raat ke musaafir, and Yaara maula) and the Piyush Mishra tracks (Sheher, Duniya and Aarambh) that really make this album a must-hear.

4. Blue by A R Rahman.
This was a little surprising, actually. While I really like some of the songs in Blue, I'd have thought that Gulaal would've come higher than Blue, whereas Blue actually just edged ahead in the results (a very thin edge, admittedly). On second thoughts, perhaps it was always going to come out this way because, individually I like Blue's songs better though Gulaal just has a higher overall impact due to the theme. Blue is, after all, just a fun album. Till end of 2007, Rahman hadn't done a 'fun' album in hindi for a long time. Most of his projects used to be prestige projects of major directors that were based on some serious theme or were period/costume projects. His 'fun' projects seemed to be confined to tamil movies. Since then, however, we have had 'Jaane Tu Ya.. Jaane na', 'Ghajini', 'Yuvvraaj' and now 'Blue'. It really is a pleasure to hear these songs that sound normal everyday songs when you hear them for the first time and yet, the more you listen to them the more clear it is that they have ARR class written all over them. :)
Well, most of them, anyway. 'Chiggy Wiggy' seems to be one of the exceptions. The english part sung by Kylie Minogue is catchy enough, and some of the hindi part by Sonu Nigam is foot tapping too, but the transition between them is just plain pedestrian. Thankfully, the rest of the album is worthy of ARR. I've written about 'Aaj Dil Gustaakh', 'Fikraana' and 'Bhoola Tujhe', but even the other three songs have a lot going for them. 'Blue theme' is quite fun and exciting. 'Rehnumaa' took a long time to grow on me, but it never seemed skip-worthy. 'Yaar Mila Tha' seemed the most unusual on first hearing, but after getting used to its rhythms it also is quite a fun song, perhaps mainly due to the lyrics.
I was afraid ARR might've signed a sure-shot turkey when I heard about Blue, but I forgot that he has done that a hundred times in Tamil and the end-result is only that the turkey gains class, rather than ARR doing any substandard work.. :)

3. Dev.D by Amit Trivedi.
After Aamir, most people were probably waiting for the next album by Amit Trivedi. Not many, however, would've expected an album with 18 songs most of which probably get a pass grade from most people. Regardless of what your taste in music is, you'll probably find SOMETHING to admire in this mega album. From pure desi sound of "Dhol yaara dhol" to punjabi-dance numbers like "Hikknal"/"Mahi Mannu" to the absolutely wonderful modernize, yet carnatic-evoking "Paayaliya" to an insane mix of pop/rock (and even 'wedding orchestra') sprinkled throughout the rest of the album, it has everything. I have written about my favorites from the album - Paayaliya, Dhol yaara dhol, and the themes - but most of the rest of the songs (except the punjabi ones IMO) are more than just hum-along nice. Not many songs were so great that I'll probably be singing them 2 years from now (except Paayaliya, nothing approaches the heights of Iktaara, for example), but the sheer range of reasonably good songs throughout the album is absolutely stunning. On any given day you can easily find me hearing to any of "Yahi Meri Zindagi", "Saali Khushi", "Pardesi", "Dil Mein Jaagi", "Nayan Tarse", "Ek Hulchul Si" etc and fully enjoying the experience.

2. Delhi-6 by A R Rahman.
2008 was Rahman's year all the way. For someone who was averaging about 2-3 albums a year over last 2-3 years, 2008 was a veritable deluge of albums! Jodhaa Akbar, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Ada, Sakkarakatti, Slumdog Millionaire, Yuvvraaj and Ghajini! I don't think anyone could then have expected 2009 to begin with an album that was as good as the best of previous year, if not better than all of them!
Delhi-6 was one of those albums that makes a well-trained ARR fan, after the first hearing, say to himself "ok... some songs are nice enough, but most of them aren't all that catchy really. This means this is going to be a great album!" :) And great it turned out to be! There are a lot of things here that seemed 'strange' to me in the first hearing but turned out to be exactly the things that make me love those songs now - the continuum keyboard ending of "Rehna Tu", the dreamy soundscape of "Dil Gira Dafatan", the rustic/urban duality of "Genda Phool", the trying-too-hard-to-be-modern off-beat rhythms of "Delhi 6", the nice-but-perhaps-too-long simplicity of "Arziyan" etc. In fact, "Masakkali" is probably the only instantly likeable song (and it stays likeable after many hearings). Yet, over last year, I have not heard any other album nearly a tenth as many times as Delhi-6. So much so that some friends had started to detest having to sit in my car because all they could ever hear in my car were Delhi-6 songs! :) Perhaps the fact that ARR hasn't come up with many albums this year has something to do with it. Still, I had a lot of recent choices that I used to put in the CD player every once in a while (all those 2008 albums mentioned above), yet I ALWAYS used to come back to Delhi-6 because of a sudden craving for Rehna Tu or Arziyaan or Genda Phool or Delhi 6. :) All of which makes it quite evident why I myself felt quite shocked to see Delhi-6 ending up a close (verrry close) second to....

1. Kaminey by Vishal Bhardwaj
Hmm... how did this happen? How can I ever explain this?? Kaminey is of course great, but above Delhi-6?? Perhaps, in retrospect, had I rated the songs rather than just simply ranking them, then Rehna Tu and Arziyaan would've been enough to pull Delhi-6 higher (after all, it really was THAT close between 1 and 2). But I think there is more to it. Kaminey songs gained much more from the movie itself (I have written about their great use in the movie whenever I discussed any song of Kaminey) as compared to Delhi-6. I started loving Raat Ke Dhhai Baje, Go Charlie Go, and Kaminey after I saw them in the movie. Also, I find every single song in Kaminey much more impressive than at least two Delhi 6 songs (Dil Gira Dafatan and Kaala Bandar...). So, while Delhi-6 attains loftier heights with Rehna Tu and Arziyaan, overall Kaminey probably DOES deserve to be called the better album.
As I mentioned before, it is probably impossible for any composer to have this sort of synergy between songs and the movie unless he/she is also the director! Any album that doesn't turn out to be a weak link of a movie as good as Kaminey HAS to be a great album. And Kaminey's songs are actually part of its strengths. Extra points to Vishal for including a message song about AIDS without making it sound (or look) out of place in the movie (even though it IS the weakest song in the album). In a movie that is so much like a rollercoaster ride, not a single song breaks the flow or, indeed, seems less than welcome. For that fact itself, Kaminey is my album of the year!
(er... one of the top 2 anyway :P )

As for composers, I think the list above makes it pretty clear who the top 4 are. Rahman easily trumps Vishal for the top spot when Blue (and Connections) are added to Delhi-6. Vishal, Amit Trivedi, and Piyush Mishra follow in that order, with Amit Trivedi running Vishal pretty close when the awesome "Iktaara" is added to Dev.D. The last slot is easily picked up by Pritam, who had some really good songs in Love Aaj Kal and Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahaani (and maybe New York and Tum Mile, which I haven't heard). Then again, perhaps other duds like Billu, Dil Bole Hadippa and De Dana Dan should've pulled him down. :) If that were the case, Shankar Ehsaan Loy would take his place in an year when they were particularly lacking in inspiration. As things stand, I think Pritam deserves his place at 5 for some really good songs.

So, the final list of composers is..

1. A R Rahman
2. Vishal Bhardwaj
3. Amit Trivedi
4. Piyush Mishra
5. Pritam

Up next: My favorite movies of 2009.

No comments: