There’s a lot to marvel at on any Peter Cat Recording Co. album: the crooner vocals, the gorgeous ornate instrumentation, the infectious choruses. But, on their latest album ‘Bismillah’, the keyword is fluidity. While the sumptuous grooves that underpin the tracks are captivating, it’s also the thematic content of ‘Bismillah’ that makes for repeated listens.
Audiences unfamiliar with the New Delhi-based band can find joy within the fuzzy guitars and gorgeous trumpets, the subtle piano riffs hiding underneath orchestral flourishes. ‘Bismillah’s beguiling charm makes you want to slow dance on one track before spinning your partner around for a two-step. It harks back to the big band era, soaring through decades with its upbeat, catchy choruses which adds a layer of sheen. Lead singer’s Suryakant Sawhney’s voice adds woozy textures; it’s all very much a sound of the past rooted in the context of today.
The album opens with ‘Where The Money Flows’ – a searing commentary on capitalism and demonetisation, the national disaster undertaken by the Indian government in 2016. The album delves into a love letter on ‘Floated By’, before building to their signature uptempo, cheerful big band-esque sound on ‘Memory Box’ and ‘Vishnu <3’. The exuberance of PCRC’s sound balances the lyrical content so well. Layered beneath the beebop, old-time feel of the music is a sense of apocalypse. On ‘Heera’, Suryankant sings, “Life was so easy / things are so clear / I don’t even know anymore.”
In announcing the album, the band said it marked the end of a chapter. With lyrics as poignant as “This is how it ends / No money, no friends”, before delving into a chorus of “I could live a lonely life so give me what I need to suffer in peace / Living on an island’, there is a fear that PCRC may be breaking up.
Arguably South Asia’s biggest underground band, PCRC refurbished and anthologised their sound in last year’s spectacular ‘Portrait of a Time’. Their latest work, ‘Bismillah’ may well be a seminal album to look back on in a decade’s time. Whether it’s the end of a new chapter for the band or the start of a new one, ‘Bismillah’ – and by extent, PCRC – have made an essential mark.