One of of the first times Prateek Kuhad performed cold/mess live was in September 2016, at Sophia College for Women, Mumbai. The stage was lit with fairy lights; fans hummed along, requests for favourites were yelled out from all corners of the auditorium — the sit-down concert was going as well as expected. Half-way through the show, Kuhad introduced a new song, tentatively titled cold/mess. “I wish I could leave you my love/ But my heart is a mess/ My days they begin with your name/ And nights end with your breath,” he sang in the chorus, somewhat wistfully in the beginning, and more beseechingly as the song progressed. An entire room of people breathed shallow as they followed every crest and trough of the track, and when he sang the last note, the applause didn’t come immediately — it took them a moment to shake themselves out of their collective reverie.
It’s a hard act to follow, to recreate that sublime experience of intimacy in a recording, but to his credit, Kuhad succeeds and how. Recorded in Nashville, his latest six-track EP, also titled cold/mess, boasts of artwork reminiscent of The Lovers by René Magritte, and is said to be a break-up album. A sub-genre that arguably came into being with Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours (1955), the break-up album is such a draw for it charts out an entire gamut of emotions — from the incredible lightness of falling in love, to tracing the first cracks in the relationship; attempts at reconciliation, and finally, a sombre acceptance of the way things are.
What sets Kuhad apart is his ability to walk the tightrope between the first stage and the last one. The lover in his songs is full of grace as he traverses the wasteland of a failed relationship; sometimes with a light touch of a tambourine and an easy backbeat (with you/for you), and other times with a plaintive melody (did you/fall apart) made even more poignant with a shaker rustling in the background. Crowd favourites such as fighter and100 words come one after the other, like two sides of a coin. Like cold/mess, fighter is atmospheric and confessional, and hinging on hope with its chorus: “could you open your doors/ can we climb out your windows/ or would you fall with me love/ when you find me within you.”
In contrast, 100 words seemingly teeters on the precipice of mawkishness — “do you have a 100 words for me? cause I have only three” — but is deftly rescued by a brief piano bridge and Kuhad’s innate talent as a writer of memorable love songs. He knows that not all loves are grand, and sometimes, a little mush goes a very long way.