The Year in Alternative Pakistani Music: Top 20 Tracks of 2018
16. Toofan – Karakoram
We’ve talked a bit in this list about rock feeling out of date, and about how artists have tried to update it, either with adding electronic flourishes or psychedelic elements. But with Toofan, Karakoram fully lean into the genre, unabashedly embracing a traditional rock sound. The guitars are loud and powerful, the drums are crashing, and Sherry Khattak’s vocals are, like the title, an impressive storm. It’s a impeccably solid song, and the one thing is clear: rock isn’t going anywhere.
17. Marijuana – Shamoon Ismail
It’s been an interesting year for Shamoon Ismail. 2018 has seen the Islamabad artist at his most creatively expressive, shifting colours like a chameleon. Basanti was a sultry Punjabi R&B slowjam, Sapne was a mainstream pop ballad. Then the whole thing with Bilal Khan happened. But on Marijuana, Ismail shows just how talented he is at different genres. The song is wonderfully simple, his vocals sincere and soft, the composition is nothing flashy. But it all coheres into a great and infinitely repeatable pop song, an ode to hash. We were a bit worried that this was just recency bias (the song only released 10 days ago on December 6th) but this has been on constant rotation since, and will be for a long time.
18. Behind Uu – Ziyad feat. Lady Midnight
This track might only be 2 minutes long, but it has sunk itself into my brain and refuses to leave. It’s a showcase of Karachi-based Ziyad’s talents as a producer. The way the track immediately sets up an atmosphere with those odd meandering keys, before slipping into a chaotic percussive segment. Behind Uu constantly catches you off guard, weaving one way before unexpectedly steering the other. Lady Midnight’s vocals are perfectly mysterious, layering on top of each other in a way that feels uncanny and off-balance. The way the drums lurch in at 1.26 gets me every time. If you like it, we urge you to check out the full album.
19. Draaaags – DAKUS
While hip hop is still maturing in Pakistan with artists experimenting heavily with trap music, a collective of ‘rogue dakus’, as they call themselves, are making some of the strangest, trippiest hip hop I’ve ever heard. This is not accessible stuff at all, but that makes it all the more exciting. The collective, made up of illmandar (who released a utterly brilliant track last year called Gilgiti Hills), Li’l chutney, and Innashah, plunder their samples from such a diverse pool of influences that it makes your head spin. There’s a looped sample of Dasht-e-Tanhai in here, pitch-shifted so it sounds terrifying and paranoid. The entire track is like something out of a bad trip, with musical elements popping up, scaring you, then disappearing again. This hip-hop collective is for sure one to look out for in 2019.
20. Bol – The Sketches feat. Natasha Humera Ejaz
The Sketches did a phenomenal job on the soundtrack for this year’s Pakistani film ‘Cake‘, and Bol, featuring Natasha Humera Ejaz, was one of the standouts. There are so many nice little flourishes here: that infectious bassline that bounces around, the strummed strings that almost act like percussion, and Ejaz’s impeccable vocal just elevates the track even further. Bol brilliantly fuses a modern sound with the traditional without ever feeling forced, or even like it’s trying at all. It’s effortless stuff from The Sketches. When the whistle comes in, you know they’re enjoying it just as much as we are.
There were a number of tracks that we couldn’t fit into out Top 20 list but still feel were great releases. This is pretty much us cheating, but whatever, you should listen to these as well.
Wild Side – Shikari
It’s a lovely folk song, meshing together Urdu and English, and performed in such a cozy way it’ll make you feel all warm inside.
Locals – Zulfi
Zulfi’s single Locals is all pop-punk fun, brimming with energy.
And that’s our list for 2018. Please do let us know what you think, and if you enjoyed anything here, please do let the artist know, and subscribe/follow them on their social media channels, I’m sure it would mean a lot to them. Here is a soundcloud playlist of some of the tracks (not all the tracks are on soundcloud so keep that in mind). Keep supporting local alternative acts!
Thanks for reading, until next year. Much love. Mosiki.
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