Cat Power - Sun
Upon hearing opener 'Cherokee', those unfamiliar with Cat Power's back catalogue may be surprised to learn that Sun is being touted as a defiantly optimistic return. Not exactly known for being a cheery sort, Chan Marshall sings (in those distinctive tones, of course) "Marry me to the sea, bury me upside down" over skittish beats that render the sonic plane still somewhat brooding. However, it soon transpires over this collection that even its most introspective, minor-chord moments are imbued with a strength and confidence that her earlier discography eschewed in favour of melancholy and dark themes. So, Sun sees Marshall back and brooding, but in a happy kinda way...
And it works! Her first album of original material since 2006's The Greatest, a record that was indebted to Memphis soul and ensued by 2008 covers collection Jukebox, this comeback wisely goes in a fresh direction while reasserting Marshall's prowess as a singer, songwriter and musician (she plays every instrument here). It's hardly going to be bothering Ibiza superclubs but it is her most danceable work, layering in processed beats without losing the raw qualities of the instruments and that husky voice. The record was mixed with the help of Philippe Zdar, collaborator with acts like Chromeo and Phoenix, and this shows on tracks like '3, 6, 9' and 'Real Life' which are the closest Marshall has yet come to electronic music.
The album's dizzying climax is the vaguely psychedelic 'Nothin But Time', eight minutes of euphoria aided by an Iggy Pop cameo. You can practically hear the smile as Marshall sings lines like "You want to live, I want to live" and "It's up to you to be a superhero"; it's certainly a far cry from the dull ache conveyed by Moon Pix's standouts. There's not any one dud track though, as the album builds to this crescendo and takes one final stand with the sorta grungey hip-hop of 'Peace & Love'. Devout fans will find the sparse 'Always On My Own' harks back to the younger Cat Power sound, while 'Silent Machine' is a swaggering stomp that could even win over the Kasabian crowd.
Personally, sad-happy love letter to NY 'Manhattan' is getting the repeat treatment from me, Marshall delivering a trademark smoky, soothing vocal over a plaintive four-chord keys loop and simple beat. It sums up a record that does not disappoint in establishing its creator's sunnier disposition and triumphantly following it through with perhaps her most immediately appealing album since 2003's You Are Free. What a good place to be.