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Originally published in the Hindu Metroplus Sunday Magazine

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Harsha Iyer – When It’s Time (Part one)

The face of the experimental, indie Indian singer and songwriter matches that of Harsha Iyer. After releasing his debut album last year, 20-year-old Iyer treads a completely different path leading.

On ‘When It’s Time’, the Chennai musician leads us gently through that path, into a haven filled with sounds best suited for a pleasant dreamland. It takes a few listens to settle into the rich sounds of what can only be categorised as orchestral pop.

The familiar strains from the previous album ease into this one, with the album opener ‘Better Prospects’ being one of the few songs that are led by guitars. Iyer ends the song with a long instrumental section full of orchestral sounds.

Everything else on this album is a carefully composed and arranged attempt at a western classical album, save for Iyer’s distinguished voice. The epic tones, pianos and string sections are certainly produced by an audio interface, but the regal, lush tones convey a good amount of authenticity.

‘Mystery Woman’ is where the essence of pop comes in, being just shy of three minutes, and probably the catchiest song on the album. But you might just miss this one entirely, only to become engrossed with the next track ‘No Easy Answer’. Iyer’s vocals and the sweetest reverb-heavy piano notes come together beautifully, swelling and falling, before finally fading out, as though it had just held your hands and now it was letting go.

‘Let Me Into Your House’ will stick on from the first listen itself, with a quick mash of what sounds like an entire orchestral arrangement (almost) with a jumpy drum beat, along with an interesting story delivered in a few lines by Iyer. If anything, this song ends too soon.

If there’s one thing Iyer knows how to do, it’s navigating the listener through several twists and turns, all in under three minutes, a case in point is ‘Like A Fool’. Tempestuous by the end, but never telling you what comes to next, instead jumping into another song.

The album ends with the self-titled track, five minutes filled with a fairytale-like air about it, with Iyer delivering a formidable piano solo.

Iyer trades in his guitar and drums (on most songs) for flutes, violins, cellos, organ and pianos on ‘When It’s Time’. With the second part in the works, it shows how experimental Iyer’s style has become, making all his fans sit down and listen to this one, instead of just rocking out.

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