Cat Power - Sun
By: Rob Gannon
Given Sun is Chan Marshall‘s first proper album for six years and comes off the back of a breakup with her long-term partner, we perhaps might have expected an awkward album out of time and place. A hybrid of sultry electronics and determined rock, Sun however is having none of it and Marshall is back it would seem to put contemporaries such as Joan As Police Woman and St. Vincent in their place.
All the same, there will undoubtedly be some that bemoan Marshall’s evolution from sparse singer-songwriting into today’s svelte song-craft, but those same people may find some solace here in “Human Being” in which Marshall puts that smoky folk whisper of hers to good use, but quite what these people will make of the track’s juxtaposition of echoing acoustic strumming and fizzy synth bass pulses in anyone’s guess. And there are more challenges for the reticent too. For example, the title track is but dark casing for a panning spotlight of synth, Marshall even experimenting with a spatter of auto-tune towards its close, though it must be said more in line with the tasteful application of Poliça than its more usual chart usage.
Although there’s a few unremarkable mid-order moments and, earlier, the stepping dither of “3,6,9” overdoes its heavy repeats, Sun does house some real highlights. Politicised single “Ruin” twins a dancing piano line with infectious bass bounce, superlative guitar chatter and some strong melodies. The dreamy drum machine pitter-patter and slo-mo piano footfall of “Manhattan” is all very dignified too, and the solid “Cherokee” is a busy template full of drum machine clicks, woozy synth and stirring piano loops that combine for a great outro framed by militaristic drum rolls.
It’s the tail end of Sun‘s running order that really steals the show however. “Silent Machine” and “Peace And Love” are both stomping rockers with big guitar riffs, the former of which conceals an unexpected passage of crunching noise and distorted vocal effects. In the middle of this pair is all eleven minutes of “Nothin’ But Time” – an epic tribute to David Bowie‘s “Heroes” that pilfers a little of the original’s melody and partners it with a swooping line of buzzing synth. Iggy Pop even turns up for a lascivious croon towards its close, though we could have done without the reprise adding three minutes to the running time with little benefit.
Sun is different – more distinctive and lingering too – than The Greatest, which is in turn different to what preceded it. Like the best artists, Marshall is on a journey and Sun captures her most recent developments; at times sombre, at others angry she’s nevertheless confident enough to explore the power of voguish electronica, presenting for the most part an album of optimism and quality.
Advised downloads: “Ruin” and “Nothin’ But Time”.
Sun is out now on Matador.