In this modern age musical individuality is, sadly a hard thing to come across but I was thankfully relieved of this depressing revelation in the form of King Of Cats 2012 debut album Recorded. Max Levy is the multi-instrumental founder of the band composing, quoting the groups Facebook page, “Bleepy, angstsome songs on the guitar, uke, electronics and voice” with the occasional help of other musicians. Although the band is based in Eynsham, a small town near Oxford, the 10 track album itself was recorded live on the road whilst journeying across the United States.
Starting from the cold north westerly city of Seattle and picking their way down through some of the famous southern states of America, the bands expedition comes to a stop in the huge urbanised district of Brooklyn in the East coast city of New York and it is clear that some of the major musical genres associated with these places have greatly influenced King of Cats debut. The album has been deliberately arranged to emulate the route they have taken across the country using specifically descriptive song titles as a guide to the listener and is why this review aims to break down the songs in such a way as to preserve this impression.
The first two tracks on the album were recorded in Seattle or more specifically ‘On A Plane’ and ‘On A Cherry Picker’ according to their respective titles and have a very ambient lo-fi folk feel to them much akin to the popular and current alternative acoustic scene there encapsulated through bands such as Fleet Foxes. The opening to the first track contains very simple harmonically constructed triadic chords on the piano that are softly played with a continuous pedal to create an ambient texture reminiscent of The Cinematic Orchestra’s ‘To Build A Home’. The addition of a ukulele playing individually plucked arpeggios and a soft synth backdrop combine to create a peaceful and slightly eerie composition.
In the second track ‘On A Cherry Picker’ the ukulele is used to greater rhythmic effect sounding, like some early compositions of Noah And The Whale and a vocal style similar to Neil Young’s ‘After The Goldrush’. From the outset I was stuck by the unconventional and unusual sounding vocal style, which immediately reminded me of The Mouldy Peaches. This distinctive type of sound, with unrefined floundering harmonies and an erratic vocal range may not sit comfortably with everyone, myself included, but it certainly sets King of Cats apart from its peers.
‘Golden Gate Park’ and ‘Maggie’s House’ were recorded in San Francisco, famous in the 1960’s for its counterculture headed by anti-political folk guitarist Bob Dylan. This may explain the use of harmonica and playing to a group of people in a park, capturing in that specific movement on record the atmosphere surrounding the song with individuals talking and clapping which is pretty cool in my opinion. This idea is also strongly highlighted on the song ‘Traintracks’. It questions what a record actually signifies and if the natural environment helps to add texture to a song. For Max Levy at least the answer is yes.
Other notable tracks on the album are ‘During A Big Storm’ which contains a rather tinny 80’s sounding drum machine juxtaposed against acoustic strumming that gives a subtle nod to Brooklyn’ hip hop heritage and the amusingly titled ‘Whilst Mike Was Showering’, conveying some intricate fingerpicking that contrasts well against some of the more simple arrangements on the album. King of Cats debut isn’t exactly the “American dream”, but if you’re a fan of roughly recorded, chilled lo-fi acoustic folk and own a Mouldy Peaches CD that isn’t covered in dust on the top shelf, this eccentric and experimental album may be just the thing you were looking for.
Released on May 19th 2012.