Going by the praise showered by his admirers, Prateek Kuhad is a veritable genius. A much-loved singer/songwriter, Kuhad relies on an unassuming vocal delivery, backed most often by minimalistic guitar lines, to deliver messages of love and hope. And they seem to resonate. He has built up a considerable fan base on the back of a steady output of releases, and those fans aren’t afraid to voice their gushing opinion on his musical gifts. His newest EP, the six-song cold/mess, released on July 13 and quickly became the newest Indian independent music release to top the iTunes India all-genre album chart.
The most striking thing about these songs – about all his songs, actually – is their simplicity. He writes young love songs soaked in a certain amount of mush – as a bit on 100 words goes: “do you have a hundred words for me?/’cause I have only three”. The songs, while structurally straightforward and largely self-contained, shine a light on Kuhad’s sizeable ability to pick out strong melodies. They have this knack of getting stuck in the brain. cold/mess, too, is a collection of such earworms, each of which comes with its own special set of hooks. The accessibility and sing-along quality of the music gets established barely a minute into the album opener, with you/for you, once we’re introduced to the song’s recurring refrain, “for you (ooh)/it’s true (ooh)”.
Kuhad isn’t a particularly inventive songwriter – it wouldn’t be fair to dismiss the music outright as derivative but it rarely strays from its self-limiting genre boundaries – but a confident, self-assured one. He forgoes frills in favour of an understated delivery, mostly steering clear of those cheap and easy moments of catharsis. To be fair, the sprawling, and a little manipulative, chorus of the title song does come dangerously close, but it’s the exception here. The virtues of restraint, for the most part, drive these songs forward on cold/mess. This is music best described as cosy.
A problem that has plagued Kuhad’s works in the past – and, indeed, many other artists in this space – is the absence of dynamic movement within the music. There’s a singular vision at play, which can understandably lead to monotony, where almost every song ends up sounding like a synthesis of the one before and the one right after. In cold/mess, Kuhad offsets this particular challenge, and allays any fears of boredom, by sticking to a brisk six-song release. Further, he plays around with different tonalities within the songs, switching frequently from his trusted acoustic guitar-delivery to a more involved full-band setup, with the piano making an appearance or two as well. Often, as on for your time, it is the modest rhythms on the drums that take over to propel a song’s narrative.
cold/mess was recorded in Nashville, US, and had a fan-driven campaign approaching its release. Subscribers to Kuhad’s mailing list received the album first, following which they were encouraged to announce the release on July 13.
The album is part of Saavn’s Artist Originals initiative, where the audio streaming service works with artists and help them put out new music on non-exclusive deals. Neal Sarin, director of A&R and Artist Originals at Saavn, explained how it works. “We handpick and curate artists internally and reach out to them directly,” he said. “Other times, we are approached by the artists.” The work progresses based on the needs of the musicians: if they have only rough demos, then they require an “investment for a proper recording, mixing, mastering, music videos”. If there’s a finished product already in place, the focus then shifts to marketing and distribution. The whole process is collaborative: while creative control rests with the artists, Artist Originals offers inputs where necessary.
This writer’s own views on Kuhad’s music remain ambivalent at best. The songs, while always catchy and pleasant, can also seem a little reductive. Here too, on what he’s said is a breakup album – about, in his words, “love, heartache, angst, and conflict” – once the surface-level impact of the persuasive melodies wears off, it is worth exploring what it is about his music that appeals so much to a quite varied audience. Where exactly lies the substance? Is it just pretty chords plucked dreamily, propping up a bunch of fluffy platitudes? Or is there more?
There is. It needs to be acknowledged that Kuhad isn’t trying to write daring music – that doesn’t seem to be his intention at all – but expressive songs that speak to listeners. His understanding of his voice allows him room to express words of love, hope and yearning without getting into mawkish sentimentality for its own sake. The fragility in his voice – slight vocal cracks, shaky quivers – underpins the slickness of the album with a strain of earnest vulnerability.
There’s a relatability to his songs. Literally everyone in the world has experienced some twisted version of love (and all its associated feelings: heartbreak, yearning, loss, anticipation, and so forth), and here is an artist vocalising those feelings while at the same time putting himself out there. Everybody just gets it. This specific quality could be what endears him to listeners so easily – and it’s not an easy thing to master; garden-variety singer/songwriters are a dime a dozen – simply because he seems to be saying these things with sincerity. He’s being honest in his words.
Is sincerity enough, though? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But it’s worth appreciating either way.