Very few personal stories ring through the collective consciousness as loudly as the one about competing identities. Every singularly unique perspective melding into the ones that came before it, to form a grander narrative of needing to feel like you belong somewhere. The critiques about playing into the hands of either side – the place you hail from and the place you’re going to – can only be justified as a critique for a few moments at the outset. After that, it’s moot. Why be critical of the want to feel rooted in a place?
The Indian diaspora story is tried and true, and at times, runs the risk of feeling like easy pop culture fodder. In a few handpicked instances, however, there is a choice made to speak about the experience not as a wider statement, but more as a grander and personal main-character story – of going through motions that aren’t exclusive to Indians or any specific group per se. Bangalore-bred, London-based artist Renao’s debut EP, “A Space Between Orange and Blue”, falls into this category. The 10-track, tight 20-minute project does more to showcase the influences and stylings of the modern-day Indian youth than take a soap-box approach to preach about the differences and similarities of the two cultures that inform him. The project itself works as a “have your cake and eat it too” missive from an artist who once harboured the quintessential Indian dream of becoming a badminton star then shifted gears and set sail abroad looking for opportunities to realise his dream of becoming a musician. What results is a glassy and buffed pop record, ready for immediate consumption. Produced by Zach Nahome, all tracks credit the artist (who is also known as Rahul Prasad) as songwriter, as he weaves lyrical tales to explore the journey of an Indian expat, but not exclusive to one.
Renao opens the project on a high note, guns blazing with the very alt-pop sounding “Wild Wild West”, but only if the guns in question had long-stemmed roses popping out of the muzzles, held up only in innocent bravado. It’s a sunny, catchy track that juxtaposes its sound with the lyrics coming from a place of bundled nerves, the unfamiliarity of stepping outside the comfort zone. “And I guess I kinda played it down/ Tryna look cool yeah/Same old game but it’s a whole new room/Ain’t it crazy/I was only a baby,” he sings with the nonchalant confidence needed to actually step outside said comfort zone. The next track “Blind” follows shortly after with tinges of the same boyish charm and confidence, as a percussion-heavy flirty song with a smooth refrain for a chorus, with grandiose promises befitting a meet-cute situation. An easy highlight, “Day Off” is too-cool-for-school guitar-laden, lyrically dense song about the hustle life that awaits him. A daydream fantasy of a finer life which, in his ultimate scenario, afford him options, in material goods and otherwise. “Toast” is a minimal heart-on-sleeve tune that sees the artist painting a picture of trying to get to know someone really quickly and really well. The two discs, so to speak, are interspersed with “Always B Mine”, an interlude with lo-fi, loopy goals, that breaks up the unabashed optimistic energy of the first few tracks with the gravity and sentiment of the ones that follow. The interlude closes with the artist’s grandmother singing a few lines of a familiar song, and acts as a sort of talisman for his life back home.
The second part of the EP kicks off with “Lifeline”, an out-and-out love song that seamlessly merges acoustic guitar sensibilities with slick electronic production elements. Another stark highlight on the project follows in the form of “Older”, which sees the artist reckoning with an inevitable heartbreak, resigned to circumstances that have wronged him and the recipient, outside of their control. The track starts off in a sparse, breathy melancholia, backed by a minimal guitar riff, and makes the journey to finish off as a song with greater ambitions. “Break It Down” is a satiny track about the trepidations of diving in headfirst, afraid to mess things up. The project closes out with “Lakehouse”, a pipe-dream of millennial lore, of a cottage-core life with the One, that allows them to leave behind the very hustle they itched for, that had them hitting the pavement so hard. In a way, it’s the same dream of putting roots down and belonging to a place, threaded through other basic human wants and needs.
The EP juggles a lot of emotions in its sharp and contained runtime, its rich pop sound carrying the threads of aspiring and wanting things to ground the artist from the daydreams of a young person. If his debut is any indication, Renao is a long way from home and a long way from his lakeside fantasy. He’s found himself right in the middle, burnishing a sound that is as authentic as his experience.