Thermal and a Quarter’s New Album ‘A World Gone Mad’ is Apt for the Times
The Bengaluru rock band’s eighth record is an unsettling collection of sounds, heavy in anger and irony, but occasionally seeking solace
Thermal and a Quarter (TAAQ) have been many things through their defining ‘Bangalore rock’ sound over the last 24 years – jovial, laidback, satirical and merchants of irony. But now, they’re furious.
Bruce Lee Mani says of “Leaders of Men,” one of the lead singles off their eighth album A World Gone Mad, “It’s cold and detached but it’s fucking furious. This is not the shit that should be happening. That’s why it’s delivered that way in the singing too – it’s detached, but there’s a simmering thing there. All is not well.” While it’s delivered through bluesy rock, the rest of the record traverses moods that are perhaps new and maybe even surprising for TAAQ.
In the making for nearly five years – following the two albums, No Wall Too High and The Scene, that were out in 2015 – this album is about anger, despair and keeping your hope throughout troubled times. After regarding the Berlin Wall on No Wall Too High, TAAQ turn their focus towards home and all the festering socio-political issues on A World Gone Mad. But they wanted to keep it as elegant as they’ve always been. Drummer Rajeev Rajagopal mentions he was watching a lot of political drama House of Cards in the early stages of making their new album and took inspiration from the background score by composer Jeff Beal. “There are cunning, evil things happening yet the music is very beautiful,” he says.
Watch the video for “Leaders of Men” below.
Interestingly, the overall mood of madness – the kind that stands for psychological anguish as well as anger – wasn’t easy for TAAQ to zero in on. But then, as Rajagopal says, “I think a lot of the world itself helped in keeping that zone together.” There’s songs like “Where Do We Gotta Go Now” which has its origins 17 years ago, while “Believe It All” offers distinctive commentary on fake news, religious falsities and more and “Lopsided” is one for the jazz fans. Along the way, the band is addressing how they view the world. Mani adds, “To our mind, the purpose of music is that it should make people reflect, think a little deeper about stuff around them, but it’s also about joy.”
One of the highlights and perhaps intentionally placed at the center of the 10-track album is “Unbelong,” which bassist and co-producer Leslie Charles describes as “almost doomy.” Mani adds, “Lyrically, it connects to something we spoke about in our film WFW/DFD. How about we feel like the bastards of the world. We belong here, but not really. We go outside and we get along really well but we don’t belong there as well. Rajeev came up with this thing about how we don’t belong anywhere.” While it closes out with a wall of feedback, “Stone Circle” emerges as a soothing soulful track that Rajagopal describes as a “mirror reflection” of “Unbelong.” The drummer adds, “You’re alone but this is where you belong and [these are] the people who keep you sane.”
Watch the video for “Stone Circle” below.
Then there’s the much more hectic-paced yet slick song “N.F.A.,” which is a not-so-sly takedown of current global politicians. Mani explains that it stands for “Neoliberal Fascist Autarky,” something that he picked up from philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky. “He’s talking about neoliberalism and autarky is basically a nation saying, ‘I don’t need anybody else. We are isolationist and we have everything we need and we’ve always been a great civilization and now we’re going to become great again.’”
Despite delving into the foibles of the current state of the world, TAAQ are perhaps typically themselves on a track like “Saved By A Laugh,” which Charles calls “bittersweet.” Mani says it’s a radio-friendly song but immediately quips that he doesn’t know what that counts for any longer in the streaming scape of music consumption. The song sees TAAQ say that despite everything, humor is “our only redemption.”
Rajagopal also mentions freedom, considering they’re still an independent band in India and have been for more than 20 years. It’s a badge they take seriously. The drummer says, “That’s the only thing we have – freedom. You’re accountable for that, you can’t blame anyone else, It’s your shit.