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Sridhar/Thayil – STD

Eclectic pop twosome make a sexy mess

Deepti Unni May 09, 2012
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Let’s just get this out of the way. Sridhar/Thayil’s STD is not an easy listening album you can just leave on while you’re doing the laundry; it’s not something you can groove to on a dance floor; it’s definitely not smoking-room jazz. What it is is a strange beast that’s all and none of the above and then some ”“ a genre of one. Even as the opening strains of “Here in the Morning” lull you into a deceptive calm, throaty blues licks and growling guitars bring a swash of psychedelia to Suman Sridhar’s sharp, soaring vocals. The tone is set. Sridhar/Thayil have landed.

When they first hit the Mumbai music scene in 2008, the eclectic pop-jazz-rock duo was a novelty. Sridhar’s jazz vibrato met maverick Jeet Thayil’s idiosyncratic guitarwork in a backwash of midis that made for a great stage act. Their music’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink ethic came with drama inbuilt, where each performance was an experiment in musical theatre. But how does it translate into the confines of a standard LP? Surprisingly well, it seems.

Illustration by Zeenat Nagree

On their cross-genre romp in the album, the band mine ghazals (“Bring Me Rain”), spoken word (“This Be the Beat”), Jimi Hendrix (“I’m the One”) and pop (“Single and Preying”), and serve it all up with oodles of camp. Thayil’s blues- soaked guitar lines hold these disparate elements together, subtle and shimmering at times and blazing with abrasive energy in other places. His gravelly vocals bring the menace to the nautical acid-trip landscape of “The Drowning Song” and the sleazy glee to “This Be the Beat” as he leers, “Gotta hit an E, and a couple lines of krunk/Got three petis and a bellyful of spunk.” Wordplay is the duo’s forte. Nothing is too taboo or sacred in the world of Sridhar/Thayil and the lyrics meander happily through the confessional and the mundane with ease.

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Their older tracks also get a facelift here. The hypnotic “City of Sisters” gets a warm, smoky- barroom makeover while the instant-kitsch of “Punk Bhajan” comes alive on a bed of driving basslines and Kishore Sodha’s trumpet.

But STD is primarily the floor for Sridhar’s vocal gymnastics. Changing mood and texture with every track ”“ and often in the same song ”“ she channels Dinah Washington in the jazz-tinged “Here in the Morning,” shows off her Hindustani classical chops in “Punk Bhajan,” vamps wistfully over Indian melodies in “Bring Me Rain,” brings a slow blues burn to “Present” and turns gibberish to gold in “Time is a Bomb.” There’s very little the woman can’t do and she does everything with aplomb.

The album, though, has its weakest moment in “Single and Preying,” a new-Bollywood number that’s probably closest to straight-up contemporary pop than anything else on the album. In any other band’s repertoire it would have been an A-side; here it’s vanilla in the scrumptious weirdness that is STD.

Overall, STD is the most experimental Indian indie has got. It’s a mash-up of everything familiar seen through the twisted kaleidoscope of Suman Sridhar and Jeet Thayil. It’s not going to be everyone’s cuppa but for those who willing to push the boundaries of their listening experience, it’s a truly rewarding experience.

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Key Songs: “Bring Me Rain,” “City of Sisters,” “Punk Bhajan.”

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