Shantanu Pandit – ‘Milk Teeth’ review: a coming-of-age tale told in shifting soundscapes

The New Delhi-based singer-songwriter’s debut solo album thrives in the the twilight between childhood and adulthood

Album covers are usually reflective of the album’s theme. That’s certainly the case in ‘Milk Teeth’, the debut full-length album of New Delhi-based singer-songwriter Shantanu Pandit. Perched on a kid’s ride while wearing a helmet, Pandit sends the message that he wants to cling onto childhood despite being a fully fledged, 27-year-old adult. At least, mentally.

The ‘child’ comes through in the considered vocals on the songs ‘Do U Know’ and ‘Dinner’: one vocal track Pandit’s relatively unprocessed voice, the other Pandit tweaking his voice to sound like his prepubescent self. In the latter song, there’s also a child’s desire for the protection and guidance of an adult: “Call someone quickly / Call someone strong/ Call someone big enough / To tell me that I’m wrong.” The childish curiosity and wonder peaks beautifully on the album opener ‘Halley’s Comet’, where Pandit is consumed by the beauty of astronomical phenomena.

The penchant for out-of-the-box experimentation in terms of sound design and production is what distinguishes ‘Milk Teeth’ from the straight-laced indie folk offering of Pandit’s last EP ‘Skunk in the Cellar’, released in 2014. He has outgrown the simplicity of acoustic guitar and is keen to bring in drums, bass, piano, trumpet, and even orchestral passages. Seven years has definitely brought Pandit some wisdom and a matured ear.

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A much loved figure in India’s independent music circuit, Pandit rolled into the scene as a 20-year-old in true indie style – as a singer-songwriter who played songs about heartbreak on the acoustic guitar. He would go on to front indie folk band Run It’s the Kid and develop his own side project Morning Mourning.

But a record under his own name remained elusive. In fact, ‘Milk Teeth’ took four years to make, perhaps due to confidence issues. Pandit has said that while working on it he experienced “so much doubt, straight up depression at times”, and indeed, the melancholia is a palpable undercurrent in the entirety of the record.

But as the 10-track album progresses, Pandit becomes bolder and surer – almost as if he is growing up. On ‘Aliza don’t count on me’, there’s the familiar feeling of imminent heartache and betrayal. It starts out a skeletal piano ballad, but blooms into something loftier with the help of a rudimentary snare beat and deep bass groove. And when the majestic trumpet takes off, the ugly, honest lyrics – “My soul’s rotten / And I want to watch you weep” – strike home even more powerfully.

Pandit takes this naked introspection a step further on ‘As I Grow’. Over blunt guitar tones, he documents the journey from boyhood to adolescence, where we are told to be careful about the company that we keep and learn to lie about the state of our minds. The haunting last line also drives home a desolate truth: “Maybe I’ll keep wilting as I grow”.

The most unnerving track, however, is the self-evident ‘Uh-O’. Lyrically, Pandit draws on mortality, isolation and economic despondence; his voice descends into a chilling, robotic register as the song build into a repetitive, guitar-driven post-rock dirge that one might hear in a Jim Jarmusch movie.

‘Milk Teeth’ is an odd record: Carrying disparate moods, from bone-jarring clamminess to the warmth of a sunny day, it offers listeners a vast canvas to find their own selves in some private corner. Sonically too, it is multi-hued in the truest definition of the term – so much so, that the record often feels incoherent. But the glue that holds all of these contrasting elements together is Pandit’s own memories – intimate, humane experiences that the listener can resonate with.

Details

Shantanu Pandit album review Milk Teeth
  • Release date: August 13
  • Record label: Pagal Haina
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