CATBUSCATBUSCATBUS by Catbus (Binghamton, New York)
New guitar rock usually sucks; it’s difficult to work in a medium whose every nuance has been exploited to death since the early ’80s. But Catbus, which is at heart a guitar rock band, does not suck. Why? I don’t know: maybe it’s because they have a trumpet; maybe it’s because the intricate and fingerpicked guitar parts are shoved into a corner of each song’s space that you have to work to excavate them; maybe it’s because the melodies on their debut EP, titled CATBUSCATBUSCATBUS, are so directly and obviously catchy that you wonder how it could even be possible some other band didn’t think of them first.
CATBUSCATBUSCATBUS is short enough and melodically concise enough that I can just go song by song and say exactly what I like about each one. The (somehow) appropriately titled, ‘Meow Meow Vroom Vroom’ opens the EP with post-southern guitar noodling, moving on to a video game-pop melody, and ending with a brass-driven freakout reminiscent of John Zorn’s ‘WRU.’ But these post-jazz references seem almost incidental – as though born less of a desire to break from the status quo than of an interest in showcasing delicate pop sensibilities at their most restless and dynamic. The horn melody at the end of ‘Kidney Bean Stomp,’ conversely, has an almost comical gait to it—reminding me, quite happily, of this song.
‘Badger and the Rat’ has a drum part that skews very close to Jamie Thompson’s work with The Unicorns, a band that might actually serve as an accurate reference point for Catbus in their similar attempts at skewing hook-based pop music towards something slimy and alienating. But where The Unicorns are bright, synthetically-minded, and very Canadian in their indie reference points, Catbus skew closer towards emulating the smoggy, blues-tinged home recordings of someplace like the American midwest. In production terms, this is a very dark album – but it is also a very full sounding one, and the lack of a directness and sharpness to the tone of the instruments grants them a sort of effusive and treasurable quality.
There are no substantial vocals on CATBUSCATBUSCATBUS until the fourth track, ‘Anne Bear,’ but you might not even notice: both because the songs are so melodically rich (thanks in no small part to some very beefy trumpet work by Nicholas Quackenbush) and also because the vocals on that song are not so much delivered as they are placed, quietly and politely, into your loving arms. The last track, ‘Totoro’ (which makes melodic reference to the film of the same name’s main theme) sees a more direct approach to vocal delivery, while remaining coy and playful. The lyrics are occasionally broken into by gang vocals, which may be jarring to some listeners, but the illogic of their inclusion is offset quite profoundly by their wonderful sincerity.
This is exactly the kind of release that I want to hear from guitar pop bands; something that manages to be innovative and weird while still being obsessively catchy and staying firmly rooted in a live music tradition. I happen to have had the pleasure of seeing Catbus live, and I think they’ve managed to put the startling exuberance of their live shows down to digital medium quite exceptionally.
Some Catbus trivia:
- Two thirds of this band are getting their Ph.D.s in physics, which seems like a disproportionately high percentage of people in a band to be doing so (I would guess that most bands have about zero physics PhDs).
- This EP was released on my half-birthday.
The Last Great Day Before The Body Was Found by Anna Bradley (New York, New York)
This is the second release I’ve covered to come out of Oliver Ignatius’ Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen studio—a place that I’m now willing to say consistently releases absolutely gorgeous sounding albums. And The Last Great Day Before The Body Was Found is more that just gorgeous – it is almost overwhelmingly lush, and drops a substantial payload in terms of guitar riffs and songwriting. The Last Great Day Before The Body Was Found is one of the most surprising, and symphonic-minded, pop rock releases that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing.
These songs are production gems, with a full and chamber-y sound usually reserved for small orchestras. ‘Head For Heights’ has an almost Pere Ubu haziness to it, and contains the EPs most brazenly intricate guitar work. Though The Last Great Day Before The Body Was Found is certainly more of a vocal and atmospheric showcase, the EP is also resplendent with involved and engaging guitar parts courtesy of Kabir Kumar and Daniel Fisher.
The brief ‘Deserter’ has a very millenial sound, and is filled with expressive guitar swoops, nestled smartly in tones reminiscent of The Police on Ghost In The Machine. There is something very early ’80s to the entirety of The Last Great Day Before The Body Was Found—reminiscent of an era when guitars were taking on the tones of the synthesizers that they were quickly being forced to compete with, and producers were starting to realize that the tone and atmosphere of what goes on between the notes was just as important and influential to an album’s sound as the instruments themselves.
EP closer ‘Safflor Rouge’ is as reverent of late ’90s pop punk as it is of more subversively weird acts like Abe Vigoda. It’s hard to believe that Anna Bradley is a four-piece, because most of The Last Great Day Before The Body Was Found sounds like the orchestral exuberance of a band like Broken Social Scene.
It’s great to hear guitar rock that isn’t concerned with sounding raw and harsh, but still puts a lot into the idea of sounding live and natural. Anna Bradley is a band that has grown from a very singular project into a dialogue amongst musical peers. The instruments play off each other with fanatic gaiety on The Last Great Day Before The Body Was Found, and the whole EP could stand under careful scrutiny from fans of intricate guitar work. With an already extensive discography for such a young group of musicians, Anna Bradley is poised to continue producing spellbinding guitar pop.