DIY culture, as far as I can make out, is championed by many and practiced by relatively few. That this is the case is hardly surprising – as romantic as it might sound, the reality of recording, producing, releasing and promoting your own creative output is, to many, more frustrating than fun. Couple that with putting on your own gigs and sleeping on whatever happens to be beneath your feet and it’s more hard work than the average aspiring artist might think. Nevertheless, Oxford-via-Brighton’s Max Levy, a.k.a King of Cats, does all of the above, and the six tracks that constitute Dr. Strangelove are brimming with the sound and spirit of the decades-old practice of making what you lack as great a virtue as what you have. For example, whatever Levy is short of technology-wise he makes up for with the warm hiss of magnetic tape and the reassuring big-button clunks that bookend several of these tracks, serving as a reminder that you’re listening to the work of one dude, made by that one dude for no other reason than that he wanted to.
From these simple means, the perfectly-formed opener ‘Letter From Under the Knife’ is born, in which our protagonist repeatedly promises some significant other (apparently introduced to the world at the very same time and place as him) that come future smarts or good looks, he won’t forget their shared failures. “You’ve changed… but only a little bit2, he quietly concludes over the gentle strums that come before the clunk. In its final seconds, a casual whistle betrays the fact that this bittersweet conclusion is, for him at least, alright.
The one-man setup doesn’t get much more complicated over the course of the deliberately skewed ballads that follow, but a few external touches lend a welcome variety in texture – an organ drones for the duration of ‘The Luckiest View in the World’, and Owen Gruesome’s Owls-esque electric guitar interjection brings the bulldozer-on-campus fantasy of ‘Shoulders’ to its over-excited close. For the majority of its stay, though, Dr. Strangelove is pulled along its path by Levy’s wobbly falsetto, which, perhaps by his own admission, is not for everyone – “take my mouth away, you will hate the things I say and you will hate the way I say them” he promises on ‘Calves’, before repeatedly piercing the uniquely-titled ‘I Stink of Human Feces’, with a microphone clipping scream (something he is seemingly compelled to do in a live setting, to polarising effect).
If a little scrappy in places, the twenty-odd minutes of music on offer here is frequently funny, occasionally moving and strangely compelling. Title-track and closer ‘Dr. Strangelove’ drifts over an eerie theremin-sounding melody towards its tragicomic conclusion: “You will last another year with me. If Dr. Strangelove can stand up, so can we”. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry, and I can think of no greater compliment for any piece of art – be it music, film, whatever – regardless of the means of its maker.
Released on 30th June 2012 by Reeks Of Effort Records. King of Cats plays the Cellar on the 29th of August with Joey Fourr, Beta Blocker and the Body Clock, Jack Goldstein and Yucky Slime