• In Saar, Jain is not held back by language or rhyme and sings as he wants to.
  • The best track on the album is Mazhab Hai, which features dreamy guitar sounds.
  • A recurring problem throughout is the loudness of the vocals as compared to the music.

Singer-songwriter Osho Jain is a strange musician. Just when you think you have categorised him into a certain genre or style, he manages to somehow cross the line of predictability, though just barely. Not that this completely rescues him from his usual trope of minimalistic vocal songs using sparse instrumentation.

In his debut album Saar, he manages to evoke romantic Bollywood, contemporary indie songwriters and wise, old poets through a mere nine tracks. But most importantly, despite singing in a language which demands an adherence to melody, and often, a rhyme scheme, he throws caution to the wind and sings however he wants to, much like Bob Dylan.

His songs are both melodic, and not. There is certainly an adherence to the basic notion of melody, even though he likes to stretch the accepted notions of traditional suur on which popular Indian music hinges.

Yet, in some songs, he follows the type of songwriting heard in Hindi films in the 70s, overdosing on romance and heaving love, yet beautiful and memorable. Take, for instance, his album opener ‘Humara Ho Gaya’, featuring vocalist Sanchi Mannotra. Over simple, meditative notes played on an ukulele, the singers profess love and togetherness, where both lovers complete each other’s lives.

This penchant for emotion-evoking lyricism will either make you smile wistfully, or set you wandering in warm memories and hopeful fantasies. This sentiment is further mined in the pleasant piano-backed number ‘Kya Dekhu’, where Jain professes that he does not need to see the wonders of nature as he is content with immersing himself in the beauty of his lover. Sparse usage of base beats, subdued sounds of a flute and something that sounds like a glockenspiel adds vibrant colours to the warm soundscape.

While one would hope for the expansion of such interesting sounds, Jain returns again and again to his comfortable bed of a singular ukulele or guitar, on which he sings. Combined with the slow pace of his compositions, the listening experience can get a little boring at times.

This is not to say that his chosen style doesn’t do the trick. In fact, if you listen to songs such as ‘Kaun Apna’, you know he wants the listener to focus on the words and not necessarily the music. He ponders on existential issues by asking why the world has become so cruel and which people you can really call your own.

He takes his vocals more seriously by disguising two poems as songs – ‘Likhta Hu’ and ‘Sheher Me’ – where no music plays in the background. The former is a little philosophical and intimate, while the latter is a commentary on the reality of living in cities. Filled with warnings, the song also innocently addresses the bigger socio-political issue of rural-urban migration in India.

But a recurring problem throughout the album is the loudness of the vocals as compared to the music. It is unbalanced heavily towards the singing aspect, while the music clearly takes a backseat. While this may be intentional, it definitely robs the listener of an engaging experience, because you have to strain your ears to catch the tune over the singing.

‘Bohot Hua’, however, is an interesting ode to the true singer-songwriter style – using a guitar and vocalising honest feelings. Poignant, chaotic chords build up an atmosphere of suspense, with a sense of foreboding lurking in the corners. In this song, Jain implores his lover to go far away from him as he has had enough of the pain and suffering caused by fights, drama and a broken heart.

This is in sharp contrast to the rest of the album where the bulk of the material is geared towards sweet, saccharine love and poetic ways of expressing it. It is in this track that Jain really bares his soul and grabs the listener. Perhaps the intense turmoil in his words and voice makes it all the more relatable and real.

But the best track on the album is undoubtedly ‘Mazhab Hai’. Its dreamy, echoing guitar sounds make it seem as if John Mayer will suddenly pop out to play an equally trippy guitar solo over the soothing, interlaced voices of Jain and Mannotra professing that love is the true religion.

This song is also where the spirit of good musicianship comes alive – Jain actually pays as much attention to the arrangements and composition as the lyrics, unlike in other songs. So, after taking in Saar over the duration of half an hour, one can feel this song lingering on the lips like the afterglow of a thrilling yet short kiss. You want more of this, and cannot help but wonder what this album would sound like if it went through the hands of a good producer.

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