'The themes are intensely personal, and the musicianship is inextricably intertwined with the energy of the lyrics'
City of angst
Jupiter Cafe, Thermal and a Quarter's second album, deals mainly with urban confusion, and is light years ahead of the band's earlier work
Thermal and a Quarter
Brigade Street 1
Wishing for Magic
State of Mine
Look at Me
Sanity in Gravity
Bruce Lee Mani: Guitars, vocals
Rzhude: Bass, Vocals
Rajeev Rajagopal: Drums
With their second album Jupiter Café, Bangalore's Thermal and a Quarter (TAAQ) have pushed the precincts of the musical and lyrical terrain they covered in their first album. The themes are intensely personal, dealing with ideas of urban angst in a manner that oozes maturity and character. The musicianship is more sublime, inextricably intertwined with the energy of the lyrics, constructing a vibe which threads each track to the other. This is no concept album, but Jupiter Café is composed seamlessly, forming a sort of thematic continuum, if you will. From all angles, Jupiter Café is light years ahead of Thermal's earlier work.
Brigade Street 1 introduces us to the album with the cacophonous sounds of Bangalore's Brigade Road from which emerge Brigade Street's wah-wah drenched guitar, merged with Rzhude's unique vocal cadences. The vocal harmonies on Brigade Street, as with the whole album, are lush and more intricate than before.
Wishing for Magic is filled with a sense of yearning, enveloped in an unmistakeable, easy Thermal groove. With some vague Billy Joel allusions and jazzy acoustic guitar work, State of Mine once again features Rzhude's vocals. The pace of the album soon picks up with Respectable, a fiery number, which, as beguiling as it is, feels a little outdated to me. It would have sounded more at home in their debut. But with Look at Me, Thermal and a Quarter have found a balance between the old and the new. With a characteristic Thermal riff, some wicked scatting and brilliant lyrics, this track embodies the tone of the whole album. It discusses the peculiar state of urban India: beleaguered by the West, thinking in their terms, yet easily slipping into the Indian mentality when it suits us.
Beginning with some wild string bending, Getting There has some stellar bass playing from Rzhude who is largely laid-back on the album, abandoning his percussive slapping style for more restrained, melodic bass playing. In fact, all three of them have eased their instrumental approach on the album, meshing tightly, but not afraid to be spontaneous. Drunk is a rather unusual blues-based number that makes you feel you could sing along, but it is spun around a time signature that will often leave you lost. This is Thermal at their tantalizing best. There are more odd time signatures on Sanity in Gravity, centred on a jazzy guitar melody. Thermal turns poignant on Without Wings, written about one of Bangalore's many tragic suicides. The title track is a ten-minute long masterpiece that has shades of Pink Floyd in its eddying movement and 'altered consciousness' sensibilities. Based on Thermal's live jams, it may seem a little out of place in such a tightly pieced album, but nonetheless it is one of the best cuts on the album, conveying Thermal and a Quarter's improvisational prowess.
The second time around, TAAQ and engineer Didier Weiss make no mistakes, producing a near-flawless record that sounds polished, professional and yet has the vigour of the live Thermal experience. Jupiter Café seems, at times a hesitant foray, and at others a bold entry into fresh territory. But what is truly new about the album, probably paradoxically, is that Thermal and a Quarter have aged, much like a good wine. In this album we see the band growing into mellower but stronger songwriters, more conscious artists and subtler exponents of their craft.
Interview with Bruce Lee Mani
Review of Thermal and a Quarter's self-titled debut album
Published on 15 June 2003
to the editor