Priya Ragu – ‘damnshestamil’ review: Tamil-Swiss star carves out a world of her own

The vocalist and rapper’s debut mixtape freely darts between genres to reveal endless sonic possibilities

Priya Ragu’s songs move like time-lapse footage of a bustling city. The ever-shifting instrumentation is made from the free-form elements of alternative R&B, soul, pop and Tamil music while ambient samples whirl around, heavy beats bump up against pin-sharp melodies and moments of silence are frequently weaved in to add tension. Much like a crowd descending upon a central, brightly-lit hub, they often cycle through several forms in a matter of minutes, offering new, visceral discoveries at every turn.

‘damnshestamil’, the vibrant debut mixtape from the NME 100 alumnus, reverberates with this sort of kinetic energy. The hooks are mighty and the arrangements are full of little pockets of exuberance, like the jubilant call-and-response harmonies on ‘Lighthouse’, the crackling distortion on ‘Deli’ and the twitchy drum machine samples on ‘Anything’. Slick production from Ragu’s brother JaphnaGold suits these jumbo-sized pop moments.

This 10-track collection doesn’t linger on any one idea, though, which can be both a strength and a weakness. The most thrilling surprises leave you hungry for more: city sirens ring in the distance on the neon, cool and lilting ‘Lockdown’, a dalliance with Balearic influences. The percussive stomp and rap breakdowns of ‘Kamali’, meanwhile, are striking and robust.

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But when the mixtape threatens to skew too left-field it can snap back to instant relatability, like the watered-down heartbreak ballad ‘Forgot About’ (“I think about you quite often / Wonder what you’ve been up to). This dud is a shame, because Ragu’s voice remains compelling; she drops to a deep, soulful tone that feels isolated against a flat and echoey chorus.

All of ‘damnshestamil’s different styles and textures find a sense of balance on the tracks where Ragu lets her radiant charisma and curiosity shine. She embodies delirious glee on ‘Good Love 2.0’: “Oh my god, boy got me feeling like a star,” she sings over breezy beats, the type you’d want to sway to in the summer wind. Bonus track ‘Santhosam’, which was written by her parents and also features them on backing vocals, arranges classic Tamil influences – flourishes of flute and cymbals, plus sharp yells – into a rich, stunning and expansive exploration of Ragu’s heritage.

There’s artistic freedom to be found in abundance across these unpredictable songs, which Ragu recently described to NME as being “too eclectic for the radio”. But ‘damnshestamil’ is stubbornly – and rightfully – hers: an eruption of inventive, deftly executed ideas.

Details

Priya Ragu - 'damnshestamil'

  • Release date: September 3
  • Record label: Warner
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