New Music

A young Kolkata band inspired by the Beatles and HP Lovecraft is gaining fans on streaming services

Whale in the Pond’s debut EP was made on a tight budget, but is proving to be a sleeper hit.

You notice the purple swirls first. Little eddies of Van Gogh whorls churn into dark waters. A whimsical streetlamp pours dotted light on a secret agent cartoon man sailing on an umbrella. The umbrella keeps him dry, but he is drenched in sodium vapour. Here he sways, this everyman Arthur Dent, as the ice-cream swirls threaten to engulf him.

You open that purple paper cover, get the disc out and pop it in – that is, if you’re quaint enough for compact disks, and are among the handful who managed to snag physical copies of Marbles, the debut EP by the Kolkata trio, Whale in the Pond.

The rest will have to listen to Marbles on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Deezer or “some Russian channel called Yandex”, where they are categorised under “рок” (Russian for “rok”; in fact, Yandex, the parent company, is bigger than Google in Russia). You can also buy it on OK Listen!, which is where Marbles first appeared and went to number one for a while.

Whale in the Pond have a fondness for incongruities. The band’s members came together late last year when singer-songwriter Sourjyo Sinha – who was in the city for higher education from Silchar, Assam – bumped into axeman Deep Phoenix at a local artists’ meet-and-greet. Sinha had a bunch of songs he wanted to record, and with multi-instrumentalist Shireen Ghosh (who was a friend from college) rounding out the band, they decided to cut an EP.

Sinha insists the band is named for a recurring childhood dream, and we don’t press – murky Freudian waters are best avoided. “After this one gig, we were asked why we called ourselves Well in the Pond,” he snorted. If they ever go on tour, they have decided to call themselves Whale in the (insert nearest riverine entity).

Cover art for Whale in the Pond's debut album.
Cover art for Whale in the Pond's debut album.

The EP was made on next to nothing, according to the band. “All the money we spent was on travelling and food.” Microphones were borrowed, laptops cadged, guitars mooched, recording spaces shaken out of friends’ bedrooms, to say nothing of the hastily-constructed blanket forts for soundproofed studio sessions (where pillows were sent in as reinforcements). The packaging for each CD has been painstakingly put together by hand by the band and their fellow travellers, replete with a real live marble snug in a slot.

Given these constraints, Marbles sounds like a marvel of production, its cluttered atmospherics rustling out of the chaotic spaces of its recording while still letting in the light. Its pop cultural matrices are fresh, if percolated through 1990s British pop, but its ocean peals are reminiscent of an older age of dreamy reverb and paisley yearning.

Like those blanket forts, vulnerability is integral to its dialectic. The forts would keep collapsing – “sneezes and coughs would bring them down,” the band says – and much had to be re-recorded.

“Someone would operate the recording equipment (with the mic balanced on pillows because we couldn’t afford a stand), someone else would have to hold the blankets up, while the third would be inside recording their parts,” said Sinha.

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Cool waters

Marbles came out in late June, a shimmering bagatelle of diverse sonic influences united in a watery landscape of longing and innocent desire. Indeed, water is central to the record. Images of rain and starry nights over starry Rhônes start off the title track, and by the time Ghosh’s melodica wends its way in, the moisture has entered your soul. (Note: American rock band R.E.M.’s water-obsessed Boy in the Well and Find the River both feature melodicas, as does the English rock band Supertramp’s It’s Raining Again. Who will unearth the ancient connection between melodica and aqua?).

This sogginess floats into Araby, with its lyrics: “blue days in full tidal waves” and its emotional resonances with the rainy Dublin childhood evenings of the James Joyce story after which it is named. Programmed waves of digital seas wash over both tracks, dripping reverb and bringing to mind the less jangly sounds of late-1960s psychedelia. This is British singer-songwriter Nick Garrie’s The Nightmare of JB Stanislas filtered through folk-rock musicians Bill Cooley and Alan Munson, via Australian psychedelic-rock band Tame Impala’s Lonerism. Whoever said seashore psychedelia was dead?

Ghosh, who produced the album and added various instruments in post-production, professes an abiding love for Freddie Mercury’s Queen, because “they absolutely loved doing pastiche-type things, especially in their more obscure works”. Some of that wistful sunshine pop can’t help but float to the surface.

There are more watery notes. In his short story, The Call of Cthulhu, HP Lovecraft writes: “Then, bolder than the storied Cyclops, great Cthulhu slid greasily into the water and began to pursue with vast wave-raising strokes of cosmic potency.”

In Whale’s song The Call, a happy, messy sea shanty about Cthulhu and the end of the world, the band sings: “Look here comes the Great Old One/ And he rises from the deep blue sea/ I’ve heard the legends of the sea when you’re awake/ One look at you and I’ll be dancing right away.” Overflowing with pirate voices, amplitude panning and static to make it sound like “an old battered weathered radio,” as Ghosh described it, it even slips into music hall comedy in a lo-fi homage to The Beatles classic, You Know My Name (Look Up the Number). Its form is delightfully incongruous with its content, in the same mode as American singer-songwriter Warren Zevon’s Excitable Boy.

On the EP, The Call is followed by Gadha’r Baccha which translates to “child of a donkey” in Bengali, a post-punk political scream that is somewhat unsubtle and perhaps too glossy to really work, though it does highlight Deep’s layered seven-string guitar work with its vague traces of Tom Verlaine.

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The album’s closer Autumn Winds is a pretty ditty that the band calls dreamfolk, and shares more than a little something with Roger Waters’s If, from Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother. With flanges and phasing galore, it is English-folky and soft and silly, but some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. What’s wrong with that?

In a departure, of course, the next single the band has lined up is a dance rock number in Sylheti about the language riots that took place at the Silchar railway station in May 1961, in which 11 people were killed by the state police. If the demos are anything to go by, it’ll be as schizophrenic as The Call, and much more dance-friendly.

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From Indian pizzas in San Francisco to bhangra competitions in Boston

A guide to the Indian heart of these American cities.

The United States of America has for long been more than a tourist destination for Indians. With Indians making up the second largest immigrant group in the USA, North American cities have a lot to offer to the travel weary Indian tourist. There are umpteen reasons for an Indian to visit vibrant education and cultural hubs like Boston and San Francisco. But if you don’t have a well-adjusted cousin to guide you through the well-kept Indian secrets, this guide to the Indian heart of Boston and San Francisco should suffice for when you crave your fix.

Boston

If you aren’t easily spooked, Boston is the best place to be at in October due to its proximity to Salem. You can visit the Salem Witch Village to learn about present-day wiccans and authentic witchcraft, or attend séances and Halloween parades with ghosts, ghouls and other frightening creatures giving you a true glimpse of America during Halloween. But the macabre spirit soon gives way to a dazzling array of Christmas lighting for the next two months. The famed big Christmas trees are accompanied by festive celebrations and traditions. Don’t miss The Nutcracker, the sugar-laced Christmas adventure.

While it upholds its traditions, Boston is a highly inclusive and experimental university town. It welcomes scores of Indian students every year. Its inclusiveness can be gauged from the fact that Berklee College of Music released a well-received cover of AR Rahman’s Jiya Jale. The group, called the Berklee Indian Ensemble, creates compositions inspired by Indian musical styles like the Carnatic thillana and qawwali.

Boston’s Bollywood craze is quite widespread beyond the campuses too. Apple Cinemas in Cambridge and Regal Fenway Cinemas in Fenway can be your weekly fix as they screen all the major upcoming Bollywood movies. Boston tends to be the fighting ground for South Asian Showdowns in which teams from all over the North-Eastern coast gather for Bollywood-themed dance offs. The Bhangra competitions, especially, are held with the same energy and vigour as back home and are open to locals and tourists alike. If nothing else, there are always Bollywood flash mob projects you can take part in to feel proudly desi in a foreign land.

While travellers love to experiment with food, most Indian travellers will agree that they need their spice fix in the middle of any foreign trip. In that respect, Boston has enough to satisfy cravings for Indian food. North Indian cuisine is popular and widely available, but delicious South Indian fare can also be found at Udupi Bhavan. At Punjab Palace, you can dig into a typical North Indian meal while catching a Bollywood flick on one of their TVs. Head to Barbecue International for cross-continental fusion experiments, like fire-roasted Punjabi-style wings with mint and chilli sauce.

Boston is prominent on the radar of Indian parents scouting for universities abroad and the admission season especially sees a lot of prospective students and parents looking for campus tours and visits. To plan your visit, click here.

San Francisco

San Francisco is an art lover’s delight. The admission-free Trolley Dances, performed in October, focus on engaging with the communities via site-specific choreographies that reflect the city’s cultural diversity. Literature lovers can experience a Dickensian Christmas and a Victorian holiday party at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, a month-long gala affair starting in November.

As an Indian, you’ll be spoilt for choice in San Francisco, especially with regards to food. San Francisco’s sizeable Indian population, for example, has several aces hidden up its sleeve. Take this video by Eater, which claims that the ‘Indian’ pizza at Zante’s Restaurant is the city’s best kept secret that needs outing. Desi citizens of San Francisco are big on culinary innovation, as is evident from the popularity of the food truck Curry Up Now. With a vibrant menu featuring Itsy Bitsy Naan Bits and Bunty Burrito and more, it’s not hard to see why it is a favourite among locals. Sunnyvale, with its large concentration of Indians also has quirky food on offer. If you wish to sample Veer Zaara Pizza, Dabangg Pizza or Agneepath Pizza, head to Tasty Subs & Pizza.

There are several Indian temples in Sunnyvale, Fremont and San Jose that also act as effective community spaces for gatherings. Apart from cultural events, they even hold free-for-all feasts that you can attend. A little-known haven of peace is the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. Their Anjaneya World Cafe serves delicious mango lassi; the beverage is a big hit among the local population.

If you’re looking for an Indian movie fix during your travels, the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival’s theme this year is Bollywood and Beyond. Indian film enthusiasts are in for a treat with indie projects, art-house classics, documentaries and other notable films from the subcontinent being screened.

San Francisco’s autumn has been described as ‘Indian summer’ by the locals and is another good season to consider while planning a trip. The weather lends more vigour to an already vibrant cultural scene. To plan your trip, click here.

An Indian traveller is indeed spoilt for choice in Boston and San Francisco as an Indian fix is usually available just around the corner. Offering connectivity to both these cities, Lufthansa too provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its India-bound flights and flights departing from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.