Review: Vinayak^a Finds A New Artistic Voice On 'Towards The Unknown'

Review: Vinayak^a Finds A New Artistic Voice On 'Towards The Unknown'

10 July 2024

Chennai's Vinayak Karthikeyan, better known as Vinayak^a, has long been a fixture in India's electronic music scene. However, it's only in the last year and a half that he's embarked on an ambitious spree of long-form releases, starting with his debut album 'Andar Bandar'. Now with his third album, Vinayak^a makes the previous 1.5 years' worth of releases an exercise in exorcising certain ideas out of his system so he can arrive anew to a fresh artistic voice which he presents with a 21-track release 'Towards The Unknown'.

Instead of beats and bass motifs, the focus shifts to textures and mood in this largely meditative work. Drone tones underscore cinematic string passages while recorded ambiences encapsulate them between quiet moments that demand your attention, especially in the opening few tracks of the LP.

Even when Vinayak^a changes his approach slightly for the synth and piano chords of 'GOD' or the arpeggio runs and esoteric string ostinatos of the more experimental 'Walk the other way', it still delivers the final result of successfully conjuring a mood of optimism and exhilarating anticipation perhaps with even more efficiency. A more by-the-book move could have been to then deliver on that build-up with a drop into graspable beats or melodies, but as the album title denotes, this is a work pointed towards the unknown and subsequently where all that build-up leads to, is left to the listener's imagination.

Following the ambient outings, the album is also replete with tracks like 'EASE for nothing' that offer more standard takes on embracing one's ancestral identity and culture, which is often represented by flute and sitar melodies, within the contemporary context, represented by the grooves and combinations that were explored to the point of becoming cliches by Asian Underground and soundtracks to Western films that made South Asia their subject matter. A great part of the album, especially in its latter half, carries the understated quality of movie soundtracks. While that sometimes does mean a lacklustre run, but, on instances where it goes beyond the tried and tested to include previously unexplored influences, like the lo-fi drums on closer 'Ek Kiss', it offers a fresh take and listening experience while homaging the heroes that inspire Vinayak^a.

It is only on takes like 'Quick' and 'you think you know' that sound more similar to Vinayak^a's previous body of work with their polished vocal samples that the album falters a little bit and can benefit from being whittled down – not for lack of quality on those tracks but rather on how they stick out stylistically from the primal and perhaps spiritual quality that makes up the rest of the album. In contrast, a more intimate and raw vocal-centred outing like 'unknown', which features singer Sakina Khan, finds a well-suited home on the LP with its chant-like affirmations and minimal arrangement.

Indeed, it is Vinayak's more primal and raw works on the LP that provide it its highest moments like on 'Nino's Around Bonfire' where even synthesised low-end booms and distorted hits achieve a humane soul that combines with the echoing vocal sample to create a powerful ritualistic musical experience.

Listen to 'Towards the Unknown' below and head to Vinayak^a's artist profile for more information.

Words: Amaan Khan




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