Ashwarya – ‘Nocturnal Hours’ review: a sleek introduction to a budding pop provocateur

The India-born, Melbourne-raised artist has crafted a alternative pop sound with room for boisterous bangers and quiet intensity

Ashwarya has been writing and performing music since she was a pre-teen but it was only last year – a decade after those first open mic nights – that she felt ready to share what she’d been working on with the wider world. Trying to find a way to combine her love for Rihanna, Ke$ha and Queen with her own Indian heritage and the desire to do something unique, it understandably took Ashwarya a while to craft something that felt authentically hers.

Breathtaking debut single ‘Psycho Hole’ was worth the wait. A skulking pop banger delivered over glitching drums, it giddily toyed with tempo and mood. Ashwarya had begun to find a lane all her own in the busy, ever-shifting world of alternative pop.

The twisting track has lost none of its edge in the months since its release, and serves as a polished introduction to her first EP, ‘Nocturnal Hours’. It’s followed by the pulsating ‘COMIN@ME’, which bounces from feisty party-starting anthem to soaring slice of atmospheric cinema and back again without a second thought. It would be jarring if it wasn’t so carefully curated. The same can be said of haunting love song ‘Biryani’, which features Bhangra drums, verses sung in Hindi, razor-sharp pop production and a whole lot of attitude.

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You’d think those first three unfettered singles would be impossible to place in a larger body of work without the whole thing feeling messy or unfocused. But ‘Nocturnal Hours’ does a brilliant job at introducing us to Ashwarya’s grand vision as a pop provocateur. Sleek and smart, the record is a glimpse into a wider world where every detail is carefully considered.

The ’80s-inspired ‘Hide You Up’ is probably the most straightforward pop song Ashwarya has released. There are echoes of Robyn and Dua Lipa in the delivery, but it feels just as unique as everything else. Quiet but intense, it’s proof there’s more to Ashwarya than surprising tempo changes. Meanwhile, the Vic Mensa-featuring ‘To The Night’ is a hugely ambitious, uptempo track that marks a step away from ‘alternative’ and beeline straight for the mainstream – all without toning down her boisterous sound.

Speaking to NME ahead of the EP’s release, Ashwarya said that it would “show my more vulnerable side”. Across the project, she deals with anxiety (‘Psycho Hole’), self-empowerment (‘COMIN@ME’) or seeking out joy in the midst of despair (‘To The Night’) – but on those songs, she hides her honest lyrics with shiny pop production and a sense of bravado. There’s absolutely none of that on the stripped-down ‘Love Again’, a post-breakup track where Ashwarya is still licking her wounds. It’s raw, aching and changes how you view the rest of the record.

With no live shows in the first year of her career, Ashwarya has poured everything into ‘Nocturnal Hours’ and it shows. This bold introduction sets Ashwarya up as a visionary artist who’s never short of surprises.

Details

Ashwarya Nocturnal Hours EP cover 2021
  • Release date: July 8
  • Record label: NOiZE Recordings
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