Smile Politely

Chawla’s Still Waiting: Impressively clean and razor sharp

Lyrics in a melodically driven sound that showcases harmonies as much as crazy guitar solos. It’s the perfect amount of pop and catchy, with a real full live band rocking out in the back.

The above description on Bandcamp aptly summarizes everything listeners need to know about the EP Still Waiting by Chawla, a splendid solo artist whose first name is Sahil and who sounds like the boy-next-door heartthrob heard on all those SiriusXM pop stations.

Of course, Chawla’s brisk, instantly catchy five songs do merit more scrutiny than two sentences on Bandcamp, starting with the tender sound and lyrics heard on the opener “Lullaby,” which invoke memories of Snow Patrol. The hooks continue unabated on “Boys in Blue,” which features a sing-along chorus and sonically pleasing guitars all over the place. At various points throughout, the incredible guitar solos by Tyler Kemmerling provide a serious rock-and-roll boost to these emo-ish power-pop songs.

If one closes his or her eyes, it’s not hard to imagine Chawla’s ballad “I’m Still Waiting for You” being played on MTV in 1988 by a band like Poison or Warrant — and that’s not meant as a slam in the least. It takes serious talent to write woe-is-me love songs with broad-stroked, unforgettable choruses that inspire concert goers to hold cigarette lighters (or cellphones, these days) aloft in 16,000-seat arenas. Crooning in a voice not yet roughened by age, alcohol, or smokes, Chawla opens “Waiting for You” with personalized laments that are just this side of innocent: “It’s 10:43 and you’re nowhere to be seen/So I find myself drowning in gasoline.” Dramatics aside, the pining he shares for the girl of his dreams rings true no matter what decade it is.      

“Treason” is as equally heartfelt in a charming, boyish sort of way (at one point in the tune, Chawla sings, “Her gentle majesty/It sends me to my knees”). What sets this song apart is the pretty and subtle chorus that occurs toward the end and is all too brief.

The final song, “Breathe in Me,” doesn’t contain the immediate catchiness of its predecessors but does boast true rock drive, revealing Chawla’s love of British heavyweights Oasis and the Arctic Monkeys.

Produced by Chris Steinmetz at Stonecutter Recording Studios in Chicago, Still Waiting has an impressively clean, razor-sharp sound the whole way through. Chawla’s voice sounds great when it’s double tracked, and Mariana Segura’s periodic backup assistance behind the mic gives the album further vocal flair. Other contributing artists are David Lopez and Angelo Cappellini (both on drums), Nick Novak on bass, and Matt Welenc, whose keyboard chimes on “Boys in Blue” are priceless.

Chawla also plays electric guitar on the EP, and there’s a simultaneous twin-guitar attack on “Boys in Blue” (rhythm and solo) that sounds outstanding and could have been done more. He’s got the pop thing down, but a little added roughed-up rock and roll and intertwining guitar portions on the next album might put Chawla’s music over the top and broaden his audience.

Yet the singer/songwriter seems to have a musical vision that’s his own, so who knows what could happen. He could veer radically toward music that’s altogether different or continue down this same pop path, landing on the charts someday when no one’s looking. He’s got the songwriting skills to do it.   

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