A few shots from Columbus country punk siren Lydia Loveless’s (Bloodshot Records) packed show at Rumba Cafe Friday night. Photos by Eric Robertson. (Click through to see more.)
Archive for April, 2012
So, from Estonia to Finland, then. Admittedly, it’s not that much of a leap, geographically speaking, but the gap between Possimiste and Cats On Fire is, shall we say, significant – not simply in terms of style, but in identity. While Possimiste finds herself in a place where she could go in any of a thousand directions (and that is an exciting prospect to someone like me), Cats On Fire have been around a while, as documented on their 2010 release, Dealing In Antiques, a collection of B-sides and rarities. And though they’ve been through some growing pains and lineup changes along the way, Cats On Fire (frontman and mastermind, Mattias Björkas, in particular) have carved out a nice niche for themselves in the world of indiepop.
And here, with All Blackshirts To Me (Matinée Recordings), Björkas and the rekindled Cats On Fire are back with their third proper LP, and the most ambitious to date. I remember describing the band’s 2009 LP, Our Temperance Movement, to someone as “a happy version of the Smiths”. And, while I can now safely say that, in those days, I really had no idea what I was talking about, it’s fair to say now that, even had such a description been 100% accurate at the time, such an easy out is no longer justifiable. Sure, the mark of the Smiths is still there, but not to the degree it is in, say, unapologetically jangly Danish labelmates, Northern Portrait.
What we get with All Blackshirts To Me, from the opening singable strains of “Our Old Centre Back” to the hymn-like benediction of “Finnish Lace” is an album which, you might say, occupies more aural space than the band’s previous releases. While “1914 and Beyond”, for instance, is a striking piano-driven history of European affairs, it is followed by a pair of tracks with strong female harmonies—“Well What Do You Know” with its strong singalong chorus, and the jaunty, jangly, and contemptuous “Smash It To Pieces”. And just try to listen to lead single “My Sense of Pride” without a little shuffle creeping into your step.
The new addition of occasional synthesizers and some ambient sounds scattered about here and there, it’s clear that Cats On Fire are not afraid to venture into new territory. And, though a little room to grow is often too much to ask of the most narrow-minded fans, Björkas has earned that privilege and put it to good use here. With dancing melodies, some well-bred earworms, and even a dash of Spanish Flu, All Blackshirts To Me is probably the band’s most ambitious project to date. But, thanks to Björkas’s seasoned songwriting and the band’s deft execution, it is also probably their best.
All Blackshirts To Me is available on CD now from Matinée Recordings.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to trace an artist’s origins. Sure, there’s always the old fallback that all music is descended from Pavement, but, in certain cases, it isn’t clear whether an artist has emerged from a vacuum or is the result of a synthesis of myriad influences. And then there’s Possimiste who, by all accounts, may as well be a girl with bat wings who lives in the forest (which is, in fact, exactly what her bio claims she is).
What we can say about the nineteen-year-old Estonian (who has, thus far, seen fit to keep the details of her story a secret) is that she has one hell of an adventurous, if not altogether revolutionary, artistic vision. Materializing out of the same sort of nebulous origin pools characteristic of so many great Estonian musicians (e.g. Arvo Pärt; Erkki-Sven Tüür), Possimiste creates what are ostensibly ethereal pop songs that flutter just beyond the realm of identifiability. Seemingly equal parts Ólöf Arnalds, Islaja, and Emilie Simon (circa La March de l’empereur or Végétal), her music also evokes abrupt and appropriate mood changes worthy of Pärt’s Te Deum or the best of T.S. Eliot.
But it is in her music videos where Possimiste’s vision really shines. Ranging from dark and brooding to delicately whimsical, they are works of exquisite beauty. The most recent video single “Clockworkbird” (below) or the earlier film “Behind the Seas” could just as easily be live-action editorials assembled from the pages of Lula Magazine as music videos. So, while I may as yet know next to nothing about the woman behind the music, I can say for certain that I haven’t been this excited about a new artist since the first time I heard Emilie Simon five years ago. My gut tells me Possimiste has a lot to offer us and I, for one, cannot wait to see where she goes from here.
You can find links to free downloads of much of Possimiste’s music on her website.
And then there’s this, a little preview and free mp3 from Jherek Bischoff’s (Parenthetical Girls, The Dead Science) upcoming debut Composed. The first single, “Young & Lovely”, features Bischoff’s long-time partner in pop Zac Pennington (Parenthetical Girls) and French chanteuse SoKo. A limited run of 7”s (500 in the US and 500 in the UK) will be released on Record Store Day next week (April 21) with B-side “Eyes” featuring the one and only David Byrne. We’ll cover the LP in greater detail as the late May/early June release dates (UK/US, respectively) approach. For now, you can refer to my review of the live performance as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival at Merkin Concert Hall back in February. And don’t forget to grab the free download of “Young & Lovely” from bandcamp or the embedded player below.