Koyal is an Atlanta, Georgia-based band I recently learned about when one of their members Noah Weinstein reached out to me about reviewing their new EP Joyride, which dropped November 11th. Formed in 2018 while they were still in college, Koyal create pleasing pop-rock infused with an eclectic range of elements, including indie, alternative, rock’n’roll, blues and jazz. In addition to Noah, who plays guitar, drums and sings vocals, as well as recorded and produced the EP, the band consists of Pooja Prabakaran (lead vocals), Henry Wallace (drums & piano), Cooper Billsborough (lead guitar), Ethan Hunt (bass) and Sultan Sayedzada (keyboards).
The band seems to be a pretty cool, well-grounded bunch, with a positive and healthy outlook and realistic approach to the music business. In an interview last month with Shoutout Atlanta, the band explained “We are best friends first and are very kind, motivated, and passionate about music! We manage ourselves, which involves a lot of the less glamorous behind the scenes marketing, booking, planning strategy, producing the music, etc., but all those hours of work helped us transition from a college band to one known in the Atlanta music scene. We really enjoy networking and meeting other creatives! It’s led to so many friendships and helped us be a part of the Atlanta music community.”
They’ve released quite a lot of music over the past three years, beginning with their debut single “Yesterday” in February 2020, just prior to the pandemic outbreak. They followed up that April with their four-song EP Rooftop Hues, then more singles in early 2021, culminating with the release of their debut album Mountain City that July. Their latest release Joyride features four tracks with a jazzier feel than their previous works, and I like it!
Kicking things off is “Past Life“, an upbeat song with an exuberant groove, fortified by gnarly guitars, snappy drumbeats and lots of crashing cymbals, along with a delightful undercurrent of trilling piano keys. The lyrics seem to be about yearning for a simpler time: “I think I knew you in a past life. And I want to know you like I did last time. / And I want to go somewhere unknown. Where it’s you and the moon and me alone.” Most of the vocals are beautifully sung by Noah, while Pooja sings the pre-chorus in the bridge, followed by their dual harmonies in the final chorus. It’s a terrific song.
“Tumbleweed” is a jaunty, piano-driven tune, with vocals nicely sung by Pooja. Henry’s piano work is so good, and I love how his notes are in perfect sync with the galloping drumbeats and swirling guitars. I also like how the song changes tempo at 2:30 to a sultry interlude, only to ramp back up at the end to a lively finish, highlighted by a flourish of jazzy saxophone. The song seems to be about two people supporting each other through good times and bad: “When I’m down you put your arms around me. When you’re down I do the same. You’ll see, you and me, and we’ll keep rolling on, rolling on, like a tumbleweed.”
As the EP progresses, each track becomes longer and more melodically sophisticated. “Open Window” has a cool, breezy vibe that reminds me a bit of the late 1950s/early 1960s bossa nova/jazz pop sound of João Gilberto and Antônio Carlos Jobim. The high quality of the instrumentation, particularly the piano, guitars and percussion, are evidence of the strong musicianship and impressive technical skills of these young band members. Pooja’s smooth, emotive vocals are wonderful, though I found it hard to understand some of the lyrics she sang.
The final track “I Wanna Believe” is a musical tour-de-force, with a heavier rock sound than the other three songs. The track was mixed for free by Greazy Wil (Wil Anspach) a Grammy winning engineer who ran a competition on TikTok that Koyal entered and won. The song reminds me a bit of “Stairway to Heaven”, in that it starts off slowly then gradually builds in intensity to a roaring crescendo, with three distinct melodic movements.
It opens with the sound of magical synths, followed by delicate chiming electric guitar chords and gentle percussion as Pooja sings to an unseen alien, wanting them to take her away from her earthly problems: “I look up to you. I wish you could take me away. Don’t know where we go, but you’ll help me leave this place. Why can’t I see you? A better version of myself.” Eventually, the music erupts with jagged guitar riffs, heavy thumping bass and aggressive drums as she wails “I wanna believe, in something bigger than myself. I wanna believe! There’s something out there, I know.” The music continues to grow ever more intense with scorching riffs, accompanied by a screaming torrent of psychedelic distortion and explosive percussion, before calming back down in the final 40 seconds to a lovely contemplative piano interlude. Wow, what a spectacular song!
Though it contains only four tracks, Joyride packs quite an impactful punch into its 16 and a half minute run time. The broad range of musical influences, combined with outstanding songwriting, top-notch musicianship and skillful arrangement and production values, all make for a high quality work that’s a joy to listen to. I must say that I’m very impressed with Koyal and their marvelous little EP.
Here’s the EP on YouTube: