Cat Power – Sun

Albums / Words

20 Oct 12

Cat Power’s tone compliments flat pulsating beats in new work Sun, the first original sounds to spawn from the American singer-songwriter in six years.

The record is rife with a new-age complexity for Power, who sees progression fore-fronted via production. ‘Ruin’ powers up to a tentative pop-chorus; whilst single ‘Sun’ and personal favourite ‘3,6,9’ (zealous sentiment in lashings) are textured and chaotic when referencing a back catalogue featuring tracks as languidly stripped back as ‘The Greatest’; as classic as ‘He War’.

Intimate lyrics react to a wider musical experimentalism within Sun, produced and recorded by Chan Marshall, aka Power, almost entirely alone; minimising industry ‘faff’ and creating buzz amongst the fan base and chart enthusiasts alike.

The album allows fans a chance to scream ‘She’s back!’, as a flux of provocative and seemingly contradictory images still dictate, a la Power: “If I die before I wake, bury me upside down”.

This undercurrent of mist and murk lies dormant in sound and style, but Power has a new aid in disparate electronica and savvy production, as layer after layer of pillow-y darkness react to her musical counterparts.

The upbeat title of Chan Marshall’s first album of original material in six years, announced via a victorious tweet in April 2012, clearly conveys an essential change in direction. While her distinctive vocals were once set against dissonant guitars and spare piano, Sun practically glows with warmer instrumentals, richer production and (gasp) synths.

Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Nothing but Time’, a track reminiscent of some of the more soulful moments of You are Free (2003) and The Greatest (2006) and, at almost eleven minutes, the centrepiece of the album. But in stark contrast to the longing of songs such as ‘Good Woman’ and ‘The Greatest’, this track lilts along with a comfortable sense of contentment. The singles, ‘Ruin’ and ‘Cherokee’, are neat, poppy tracks, with Marshall’s lyrics buoyed along on sharp beats, syncopated rhythms and even hand-claps.

Despite the smoother production, Marshall’s lyrics are still tinged with her brand of particularly Southern melancholy – the light, shimmery piano chords of ‘Manhattan’ rub against Marshall’s warning that “people come and people go, all the friends we used to know ain’t coming back” and the regret of a particularly nasty hangover is palpable in the languorously beat-driven ‘3,6,9’.

Sun is a complicated record. Marshall’s new musical sound sometimes feels at odds with her characteristic lyrical intensity. Yet, the essential elements of a Cat Power album are still present and while her music was once all raw emotion and glimpses into the dark debauchery of her well-documented ups and downs, these songs, with their hypnotically layered vocals, seem more like the ruminations of a gloriously listless Sunday afternoon.

As I sit slouched in my garden with the neighbour’s children screaming at unknown terrors from behind brown stained fences and with a lawnmower humming sinisterly in the distance, Cat Power’s ninth studio album plays out from my speakers. The enigma that is Chan Marshall is back with a self-produced record that feels more experimental than any of the previous albums, while still retaining what made her such an interesting and heart-felt artist in the first place.

Being able to self-produce the album has meant that Marshall has been able to tinker and play with her sound. This is both a positive and a negative on the album. While it feels like a fresh and interesting update to her music, there is also some somewhat shoddy drum mixing at times and ill-placed synth sounds which can work against the flow of a track. This doesn’t matter much as it just adds to the diary entry-esque feel of the songs, but I also can’t help imagining the strip backed live versions with a longing.

I don’t see the album producing any instant hits as with past endeavours but the tracks work and weave nicely together into a rich musical tapestry. There is the smoky, bar fused ‘Silent Machine’ that oozes out from the speakers with blues-fuelled heartache, with lyrics proclaiming a detachment from the life around her. The ethereal and beautiful ‘Human Being’, where we find Marshall at her most introspective. Or the guitar driven, grinding stomp that is ‘Peace and Love’ that pounds through the air. ‘3, 6, 9’ is also of note because it allows Cat Power to show off her pop writing credentials and create a track that whistles along.

You will probably come away from this album still not really understanding the mysterious Scarlett Pimpernel figure of Chan Marshall, but like a deep well, if you throw in a coin it has to hit the bottom at some point.