Cats and Cats and Cats - If I'd Had An Atlas
Chris Tapley 17/06/2010
Cats and Cats and Cats have released a multitude of EPs, singles and splits in the years leading up to this, their debut album. Whilst this is undoubtedly good practice, many a promising artist has floundered hopelessly when it comes to the debut long player, finding themselves unable to maintain enough flair or variation in sound over the course of more than five or six tracks. There is too, particularly after the acclaim which greeted their split with This Town Needs Guns, a quiet expectation surrounding Cats' debut album. Thankfully this doesn't seem to have weighed too heavily and they've struck a sublime balance between up-tempo angular rock, sweeping orchestration and whimsical melancholy that manages to carry them across the length of a long player beautifully.
This is something that was hinted towards on the AA single from earlier this year Oh Boy (which rated a full 5/5 here on GIITTV) featuring A Boy Called Haunts and The Boy With The Beak, both of which are stand out pieces herel. Like those the key thing here is the incorporation of many different stylistic ideas in to a coherent Cats-like sound. This is apparent from the very beginning, as opening track If I'd Had Antlers begins with a choir sing along before lashing in to a much rawer sound replete with spat lyrics and stabs of cello, before it veers back to a lush swelling of harmonies and violin. Quite often they combine these two sides of their sound within the same track, mostly to stunning effect, such as the more delicate and distinctly pastoral opening of Big Blue, which spirals in to something much more 'fist in the air' with some of the record's more memorable lyrics like 'somehow I doubt that doubt will help us now'. The lyrics are for the most part little more than sufficient but there is the odd occasion where there's a lovely turn of phrase that elevates the songs to a new level.
Something rather bizzarely illustrated by a shot of Japanese indie pop on Suizokukan Ni. Although on paper it might not sound like a great idea it works surprisingly well, with taut military-esque drumming and stuttering rhythms dancing around the neatly-arranged Japanese lyrics. The fact that doesn't come across with even a whiff of pretension is also testament to its execution. The Smallest Song is arguably the highlight of the record though as its hazy trumpets form a triumphant vibe which would have been a perfect finale. As such the otherwise really quite good title and closing track feels like a bit of an afterthought, and would have sat so much easier anywhere else in the running order. This aside though, there's not a great deal to fault here. Other than maybe the vocals, which are occasionally a touch too unrestrained and have a tendency to wander in to shrill territory.
It's clear that Cats and Cats and Cats have spent their formative years playing with and honing ideas, as has already been somewhat evident with previous releases, with some kind of view towards an album. They have pulled it off wonderfully as well, with a record that sounds as accomplished and forward thinking as it does true to their roots. Adventurous, heartfelt and energetic; for me this is one of the albums of the year so far.