I need something small, I need a room without a view

by Jens Zietlow, on a relatively famous backyard in Hamburg
by Jens Zietlow, on a relatively famous backyard in Hamburg

I can hardly stop beating myself up enough to post tonight, but I guess if I’m going to be listening to something when I’m this filled with self-hatred, it might as well be Cats on Fire, because not only do they have a nice, destructive name, but they are also just the right amount of upbeat with a good dose of cynical reality.

I’ve been listening to Cats on Fire for a couple of weeks now, and I love them, but I’ve been at a loss as to what to say about them.  When Eric introduced them to me, he labelled them as kind of a happy version of the Smiths, which I definitely agree with, but then today we had a conversation about how they sound so familiar (to me) and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.  We nixed Belle & Sebastian (any of it) today.  The Magnetic Fields?  I don’t think so.  Maybe it’s the vocals?  It will continue to drive me crazy until I die.  I must accept that they have a unique sound that is comforting in its familiarity…although the reason it is familiar is…just one of their mysteriously special qualities…

I’m full of shit.  Anyway, Cats on Fire has released a few things–singles, EP’s, CD’s, blah blah, but right now I am listening to and talking about Our Temperance Movement.  They are from Finland but Matinee Recordings released it in the US in April, and its track listing is different than it is in the UK, which is odd (to me) but cool.  In a very weird  and “I’m still full of shit” sort of way, what I like about Cats on Fire’s (Cats’ on Fire?  The eternal question of who possesses…) sound is similar to what I like about The New Pornographers’ (The New’s Pornographers) sound, which comes down to line and layers for me; it’s something about how the lyrical lines are backed by long phrases, creating an awesome backdrop of sound.  This might sound crazy, but I don’t really care.  And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Cats on Fire really sound(s) like The New Pornographers.  ANYWAY MOVING ON.

I think the line is also what gives the album such a great flow.  Each song is both its own entity and part of the bigger picture of the album, which may seem obvious, but also there are a lot of artists who don’t try to achieve this, or who try and fail.  This is why the concept of “the album” is dead.*  Discuss.  Every song I’m like, ohh this is probably one of my favorites!  But then I change my mind as soon as I start the next song.  Then I start the CD over again and the process begins once more.  They do tender, melancholy, and melodic beautifully (“Our Days in the Sun,” “Never Sell the House”), and they do a bit more upbeat and driving fantastically as well (“Lay Down Your Arms,” “Tears in Your Cup”).  You can’t get a better blend.  It’s like damn good coffee.

Lyrically, Cats on Fire are witty and precious, my two favorite things about people and bands.  Take, for instance, “Never Sell the House”: the man you danced with was most certainly too old/he wouldn’t tell but i think the stale (?) smell gave away/come dementia you’d be kicking yourself/so let go.  God forbid we be kicking ourselves come dementia.  Or: come on and meet me when i come home/without you even askin i’ll shovel all the snow/and you’ll never sell the house/we’ll always have our own room. Both witty and precious in one song.

They also give good advice, for instance, too much adultery just poisons your mind.  That was “Letters from a Voyage to Sweden.”  Good thing to remember.

Anyway, I hope you love Cats on Fire as much as I do, and I hope you buy their album because it is really quite wonderful and you will not be disappointed, especially if you are a fan of the Smiths or Belle & Sebastian or The New Pornographers or the Magnetic Fields, or really anyone with talent, and especially if you are not sure how to do plurals or whether to capitalize the “the” in front of band names.

*I do not really think “the album” is dead.


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