A jukebox album is a tricky thing to pull off. It is a contradiction in terms: on one hand, you have an eclectic mix of sounds and styles, but on the other, the album must amount to a complete work. Project Albus is an ambitious new release from Tanay Joshi that showcases various pop and classical styles in a fun and charming way Ultimately, however, the album falls short of being a unified whole, and lacks a clear theme to pull its disparate tracks together.
After a solo piano introduction, culminating in a salvo of multi-octave arpeggios, the album begins with ‘So Many Dreams to Choose From!’, a musical theatre escapist romp that features Oscar Hansen singing some of the catchiest melodies on the album. The jaunty mid-century musical style is where the album shines the brightest. Through its fast-paced, good-natured lyrics, the themes of student anxieties, pressures, and the value of leisure begin to develop:
All this work is cumbersome and piling on and on
Let’s go on a spending spree at the plaza or the alley
and forget about my work, oh just for now
Further through the album, ‘Let’s Play Insane’ has the most enjoyable section in all of Project Albus. This again features an energetic chorus, one you could visualize being sung on stage with a full cast dancing in synch sporting colourful flowing outfits. The penultimate track ‘Let Them Rise’ takes an unexpected turn for the dramatic. About soldiers returning from war to their village, this track includes syncopated drums and keyboard solos that feel as misplaced as the song’s lyrics. Though this track could work well as a stand-alone single release, its integration into this album feels erroneous.
This lack of overall coherence is a problem throughout the album. Disney-inspired ballads, keyboard patches reminiscent of Koji Kondo, four-on-the-floor drumbeats, and Indian pop sensibilities represent just some of the sonic diversity present through the half-hour album. There is also variety in the personnel – along with Joshi as the composer, the nine-track album features three lyricists (Franco Rodrigo, Pulkit Goyal, and Leo Mercer), four vocalists (Oscar Hansen, Jemimah Taylor, Amelia Gabriel, and Ben Christopher), and additional instrumentalists. Joshi aims to give his listeners a sampling of musical tastes, and successfully delivers musical tapas, but it is at the expense of a filling meal.
Although there was a large team behind the album, the production of the recordings does leave something to be desired, as vocal treatments frequently do not blend soundly with the backing instrumentation, causing the singers and soloists to sit uneasily high in the mix. Nevertheless, there is an intimacy captured in almost every track through Joshi’s DIY approach to recording: the listener feels as if they are in the studio space while the vocalist is performing. It adds to the charm of the album even if revealing some of its imperfections.
The album as a whole attempts too much within the limits of this project, but can certainly be enjoyed on a track-by-track basis. Taken individually the songs are often successful in their approach with only minor production and/or execution issues. Joshi et al. might benefit from formalising the interesting musical ideas present throughout the album into a more cohesive and organized product, one that draws from the best moments from Project Albus without becoming muddled under its breadth.