Hailing from New Dehli, India, quintet Peter Cat Recording Co. is a band that does their best to avoid strict stylistic definitions. Their last release, an assemblage of songs from their past albums, Portrait of a Time: 2010-2016 (2018), displayed a group willing to experiment with a multitude of influences and put them into practice in their own work. Their new album, Bismillah, sees the band honing in on a more specific sound. The result is an album at once diverse from track to track yet cohesive in its entirety.
Peter Cat Recording Co. is, at its core, a swing-jazz group lead by vocalist Suryakant Sawhney, whose buttery croon harkens back to the Rat Pack and the great pop singers of the 1950s and 60s, or more recently, Amy Winehouse. It is how the band builds up from those roots that make them an intriguing group, taking cues from the late-00s and early-10s indie-rock of groups like Beach House, The xx, Spoon, and The Walkmen to name a few, and approaching them through a jazz lens. The band also utilises other genres to round out their sound, including electronic, funk, and disco — each of which, on their own, feel as though they’ve been tread on enough to read as banal. However, the way Peter Cat Recording Co. take these influences and delicately intertwine them gives them a sound that is both incredibly familiar but also distinct.
Listeners are eased into the album with “Where The Money Flows”, a slow-moving, smooth track that introduces the group’s mixture of musical styles by featuring Sawhney’s vocals, acoustic guitar, light keys, and a simple electronic beat. Next, “Floated By” offers a bright, mid-tempo track that ups the jazz influence from the previous track by bringing trumpets, live drums, and precise electric guitar to the forefront. “Soulless Friends” briefly increases the tempo, highlighting breezy guitar tones, fantastic piano arpeggios and an incredibly catchy melody before “Vishnu <3” momentarily takes the album in a more contemplative, indie-rock direction.
Housed at the centre of the album, the band uses “Memory Box” as an opportunity to expand the album’s sonic landscape — the eight minute track is an unashamed disco celebration. Following the bouncy “Freezing”, the song “Heera” is darker in timbre than the songs that precede it. The eerie guitars, organ riffs, and constant tambourine place the song squarely in the late-60s alongside influences such as The Animals, with a more current reference point being Timber Timbre. The following song “I’m This” opens with an electric-buzz reminiscent of the beginning of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” (1984) before disappearing to allow an acoustic guitar and barebones beat carry the rest of what is the most stripped-down song on the album.
The final track on the album, “Shit I’m Dreaming”, floats in an ethereal ambiance for the first two-thirds of the song, Sawhney’s vocals the only thing that leaves the listener somewhat grounded, and just as you think the song might be fading out entirely, hi-hats, strumming guitars, and fuzzy horns arrive and rise from the fog, closing, as per the big-band influence might lead you to guess, with one big, final chord.
Something that raises Bismillah above the level of being just a pleasant, summer record is how effectively the band weaves lyrical themes of failing capitalistic systems and the social loneliness that permeates our present culture. The album opener deals directly in economics while other songs, like “Heera” confront the difficult reality of isolation with lyrics such as “so give me what I need, to suffer in peace, living on an island.” The song “Freezing” serves as a microcosm for the album as a whole, commenting, in a meta fashion, on the perceived external happiness and actual unease presented in many of the songs on the album.
This is a total work that is immediately accessible and gleeful enough to earn endless relistens while also reflecting enough upon serious ideas for the album not to be discounted as just another ineffectual indie-rock album. A statement on modern themes through retro musical expression, Bismillah is a wonderfully articulated artistic vision from Peter Cat Recording Co. — an album wrapped in the contemporary desire for a safe nostalgia that will keep us shielded and distanced from a literally burning world.