RS Essentials: 11 Thermal and A Quarter Songs for All Times
The veteran Bengaluru rock band have offered humor and solace alike during their prolific run since 1996
In 2005, Thermal And A Quarter (TAAQ) not only released their third album Plan B online for free, but also stayed ever ebullient in their style of rock. “Paper Puli” brings together that signature, squeaky-clean and fist-tight way with grooves that the band continue to be known for. We’ll overlook the very obvious dig at rock journalism and focus instead on one of Indian rock’s most memorable melodic funk hooks, complete with vocalist-guitarist Bruce Lee Mani’s scat vocals.
“This Is It”
The title track from 2009 album This Is It saw TAAQ wryly accept that rock was on its way out of mainstream lexicon (and perhaps foretelling how it would be in Indian indie a few years down too) and that they’re kind of dinosaurs now. What might have felt like a sad realization is wrapped in buoyant rhythms, with Mani getting into wishful thinking when he says, “And who knows maybe someday/ We’ll find Plan B/ In a hit movie.”
“Meter Mele One-and-a-half”
Their hometown of Bengaluru is among the lyrical themes that TAAQ have always honed in on. If you’ve never been to the city, “Meter Mele One-and-a-half” is the apt introduction to inescapable situations – wily autorickshaw riders, traffic and all kinds of by-lanes. Drummer Rajeev Rajagopal brings that distinct cowbell action, while bassist Prakash K.N. snakes his way through almost like an auto, as Mani screams “Aiyyayo!” The song remains a major gem from 3 Wheels 9 Lives, their 2012 triple album comprising 28 tracks.
The year 2015 proved to be a prolific one for Thermal, who released two albums. The second of those was No Wall Too High, a collaboration between the band and Matthew Kurian in Germany on a lyrical concept of division, referring to the German reunification. “Bangalore Blues,” one of the typically quieter TAAQ songs, arrived (as they usually do) at the end of No Wall Too High. With slide guitar leads and a country-blues kind of acoustic guitar melody (plus ambient sounds of the city), Mani fed in lines like: “Our temples of food, our oases of coffee/ Give me that dog-eared book under a cool Cubbon tree.”
Taken from their standout 2020 album A World Gone Mad (and originally released as a single in 2019), TAAQ turned emotive like never before with “Stone Circle,” perhaps their years of experience reflecting in the wisdom and depth of the track. Focusing on family and close friends with vocalist Swikrity Singh, the gentle bop and its animated video proved particularly relevant when the pandemic struck, leaving us all a little bit further away from near and dear ones while cherishing those bonds even more.
Medicated Electronic Dance or “MEDs,” part of their 2015 album The Scene, was TAAQ’s sardonic take on the EDM boom throughout the world as well as all the colorful substances that often permeate the culture. Taking things one step further, the band even employed mainstay electronic elements like vocoder vocals and MIDI-drawn harmonies for triumphant, indulgent disco-funk rock. Undoubtedly harsh on DJs and producers (“Nothing grooves as sick as a MacBook Pro,” Mani sings), this one hits all the right notes with diehard rock fans who scorn anything without “real” instruments.
Speaking of indulgent songs, TAAQ’s second album Jupiter Café closed with its nine-minute title track, making for a psychedelic (and occasionally fusion-informed) jam that has remained a staple in their sets. The heady song is driven by Mani, Rajagopal and bassist-vocalist Rzhude David, plus impassioned classical vocals from Rajesh Mehar. With the vocals only starting out only around the five-minute mark, “Jupiter Café” sees TAAQ balance their generous rock antics with soulful storytelling.
“For the Cat”
When you have 28 songs and a three-disc album (yes, discs – because that’s how music was packaged in 2012), it’s safe to say you can cover a lot of ground thematically. TAAQ paid tribute to one of the world’s beloved singer-songwriters Cat Stevens aka Yusuf Islam on “For The Cat,” off 3 Wheels 9 Lives. The jovial, clap-along track pays a fun and sometimes fawning tribute to the legend.
In a bid to steal some of the limelight during the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, TAAQ released what they termed “the official anthem of Uncommon Wealth.” Driven by a fast-paced riff, “Kickbackistan” took aim at the widely reported corruption taking place around the sporting event, capped off by a bubbling anger heard in Mani’s vocals and metal-esque outro.
Mani makes his guitar sound like an accordion on this penultimate cut and title track from their 2015 album The Scene, but that’s not even where it ends. “Selling Sushi in an idli shop for you/ With rock and blues and jazz and rolls on the menu” pretty much sums up TAAQ’s sarcastic takedown of everything that’s challenging about making it as an independent, DIY rock band in the country. An honorary mention goes to the song that follows, “The Sponsors Backed Out” – because it’s likely a continuation of listing down all the obstacles and grouses a band could have in Indian indie.
“Leaders of Men”
Released in 2019 and eventually becoming part of A World Gone Mad in 2020, TAAQ – now with bassist-producer Leslie Charles and guitarist Tony Das joining Mani and Rajagopal – delivered a sparkling takedown of politics and statesmen on “Leaders of Men.” Supplied with a bluesy lead, the music video also used interpretive dance to drive home the point of unscrupulous representatives of power in the world.