Wednesday, August 29th, 2012
Review of Cat Power’s Sun
Stefano GiovanniniIt seems counter-intuitive to not look forward to hearing an artist’s first album of new material in half a decade – the follow-up to arguably her best work, no less – but then things are rarely straightforward when you’re talking about Cat Power. With all respect to those who’d bestow the honour on You Are Free or Moon Pix, but The Greatest was as good as its title as far as I was concerned. It may not have been as musically adventurous or emotionally bare as some of her other works, but I found the document of an artist trying something new with the Memphis soul style and sounding so in her element irresistible.
So why fear for the follow-up? Well, there was 2008’s Jukebox, which took the aesthetic of The Greatest and applied it to a selection of classic songs and somehow ended up feeling utterly bloodless, with Chan Marshall seemingly falling into the diva trap of now being an impressive voice overemoting the words of others; it was like the feeling of comfort that permeated The Greatest had turned into complacency. Further, while the two shows I saw in 2006 in support of The Greatest were, with a few hiccups, outstanding shows that seemed to put Marshall’s reputation as a shaky live bet to bed, her appearance at the 2007 Rogers Picnic was uneven and uncomfortable and while she was certainly more together at Matador at 21 in 2010, that set didn’t really point to her leaving her Dirty Delta comfort zone anytime soon. In other words, my greatest fear for Sun, promised as far back as 2007 but only arriving next Tuesday, would that it would be an overworked, underwhelming rock’n’soul pastiche that showcased Marshall’s voice but shortchanged her songwriting. And I didn’t want to hear that happen.
Well as it turns out, there was nothing to fear. Nothing. At. All. Marshall’s soulful rasp is as rich as it ever was, but there’s little trace of the gospel-blues singer that she wore a little too well. Sun is a wildly eclectic record, and even those who’ve kept up with Cat Power through her various creative phases may be taken aback by the introduction of electronic textures, programmed beats, and even some autotuning effects, but no one would dare dismiss this as genre tourism. It’s more as if Cat Power has been captured through a prism and refracted into a spectrum of musical colours – perhaps new and unfamiliar when taken in bits, but all still very much parts of the whole.
As tempting as it would be to make the new sonic direction the story of the record, or dwell on the remarkable fact that it was not only self-produced but that Marshall played virtually every instrument on the record, to do so would be to not focus on the most crucial aspect of Sun and that the songs are fantastic. The frailties of her early work have given way to a swaggering confidence that permeates everything; Marshall is focused, confident, and not only willing to take on anything, but determined to succeed. A closer examination of the lyrics reveals as much emotional honesty as she’s ever offered – after all, you can’t raise the sun without casting some shadows – but the darkness only adds depth, it never defines. Sun is an astonishing statement from Chan Marshall that shows that rather than banish the demons of her earlier work as The Greatest might have inferred, she’s utterly made them her bitches and put them to work.
Another stellar effort from a veteran performer out next week is Silver Age from Bob Mould; it’s also now available to stream along with an interview at Rolling Stone. The first video from said record also surfaced last week.
To mark the release of the Divine Fits debut long-player A Thing Called Divine Fits this week, there’s feature interviews with Britt Daniel and/or Dan Boeckner at Consequence Of Sound, The 405, Interview, 680 News, Seattle Weekly, Pitchfork, The AV Club, and The National Post. Divine Fits play Lee’s Palace on September 5.
Also out this week was Nocturne, the second album from Wild Nothing. Accompanying that were features at eMusic, The Fader, Clash, DIY, Austinist, The Line Of Best Fit, and Paste. They’re at The Great Hall on September 18.
A goodly number of show announcements to get through. We’ll start with The Killers, because statistically speaking some of you must be fans, just as some of your must be human and others dancer. Their new record Battle Born is out September 18 and they’re at The Sound Academy on September 22, tickets $54.50. That seems undersized for them so I figure this counts as the “intimate club gig” before they return in a few months at the arena level.
Video: The Killers – “Runaways”
Presumably having sorted themselves out following the departure of bassist Jen Turner, Here We Go Magic will be at The Garrison on September 23 as part of a tour support of their latest record A Different Ship. Tickets for that are $12.50 in advance. Spin has a feature on the band.
Californian psych-poppers Woods will have a new record in Bend Beyond out on September 18, and they’d like to play some of it for you. Be at The Garrison on October 2 if you’ld like that too; tickets are $12.50 in advance.
There’s no measure by which this isn’t a strange tour, but it must make sense to someone. That’d be The Psychedelic Furs, The Lemonheads, and Juliana Hatfield, who will also be reprising her Ray-era bass duties in The Lemonheads. She’ll sort of have a new record to push in her self-titled cover album, a sort of companion piece to The Lemonheads’ last release, the all-cover Varshons. Wouldn’t it be weird if both their sets were all covers? Or maybe all Psychedelic Furs covers? Yeah I have no idea what this is, besides at The Danforth Music Hall on October 16. Ticket info still forthcoming.
They are from Brooklyn, they are seventeen members strong, they are disco, they are Escort, their 2011 debut album was also Escort, I hear they were awesome at SXSW, and they’re at The Horseshoe on November 10. Tickets are $16.50 – that’s less than a dollar a band member!
MP3: Escort – “Starlight”
Tags: Andrew Bird, Band Of Horses, Beachwood Sparks, Ben Gibbard, Bob Dylan, Bob Mould, Cat Power, Dinosaur Jr, Divine Fits, Escort, Exitmusic, Here We Go Magic, Juliana Hatfield, Killers, Lemonheads, Mountain Goats, Pinback, Psychedelic Furs, Sharon Van Etten, Sleigh Bells, Wild Nothing, Woods, Yellow Ostrich