September 2012 is finally on the horizon, the month of the album. I have a list of September releases in front of me, and album one on the cusp of August that sticks out, could go either way, so here we go. One of my all time favourite female singer-songwriters, Cat Power. Sun is her ninth studio album and first in four years since 2008's cover album 'Jukebox'. I felt her previous releases have been lacking character. 'The Covers Record' was a lovely beam of joy from a typically depressive artist. Renditions of songs like 'Naked If I Want To' and 'Sea of Love' were magnificent. Her version of 'I Found A Reason' is beautiful, it truly is. 2003's 'You Are Free' was far from unoriginal, except the Galaxie 500 album cover. It was admirably positively reviewed. 'The Greatest', her last original album, had it's moments, but it ultimately fell down on content. The Moon Pix artist returns with her chalky, earth voice for Sun. It almost seems unreal listening to another Cat Power album. I thought she was finished after Jukebox, it seems Sun could be her reemergence out of the dark, into the light, the sun.
First listens reveal a more, lo-fi / electronic style of structure. There's no excessive synthesizers, but the use of synth riffs and soundscapes really enhance Cat Power's vocal. 'Cherokee' has an ear catching piano riff, with a very aggressive drum rhythm. The guitar fit's nicely with Power's voice, as it has done since she began recording over a decade ago. The chorus is catchy, with lovely synth riffs bigging up the sound. Cat Power has the ability to bring listeners moods down. Her songwriting has always been rather dressing in some aspects. Title track 'Sun' is just as saddening lyrically. It opens with a stretched electronic, synth riff. Layered vocals fit over an electronic drum beat and light acoustic guitar. There's a sense of desperation as Power sings, "I wanna hear the answer to every question." The variety of instrumentation gives Cat Power a new look, a different edge compared to her relatively sparse past.
A tale of travel, 'Ruin' sees Cat Power singing deeply about world poverty, in a minimal sort of way. It's more focused on the people who don't act, rather than the Bono sort of thing. She name drops many countries, and mentions where she's been on her travels, whilst touring I presume. The track has a lovely piano riff, with the chorus standing out ultimately, with Power singing, "What are we doing? We’re sitting on a ruin." As an artist, she's always been powerful. '3, 6, 9' is another Cat Power, powerful track. The chorus isn't the best, it rhymes but sounds ineffective to me. The verses are far more cryptic and relevant to her four year hiatus since Jukebox. These tracks were written in a period where Cat Power was bankrupt (or near to..), 'out of work' due to her cancelled post-The Greatest tour, and the lyrics show: "I find letters, pictures. Memories of which I can't seem to let go. In your bedside table, in your pocket, in your wallet. You'll know." There's nothing uplifting about Sun, it's more of a 'this is what I've been up to' sort of release.
'Always On My Own' really highlights the electronic production techniques and step away from the norm. Mixing was finalised by Cassius member Philippe Zdar in France, with Cat Power producing the album in it's entirety. These lovely few minimalistic electronic tracks fit Power's rather stark vocal. 'Real Life' isn't far off an almost entirely electronic produced track. Synths are used extensively, with a drum machine being used for the beat. The bass and vocals are the only thing human on this track. It is a step in a different direction, clearly a choice made by Chan Marshall and not Cat Power, if that makes sense.
It's no surprise that Sun is an album of bitterness. Chan Marshall turned 40 this year, with the run up to Sun's release coinciding with a recent breakup to actor Giovanni Ribisi. 'Human Being' is a classic Cat Power track. Light percussion, a smooth bass riff and a withdrawn melancholy and soulful vocal. Her lyrics flow perfectly with the songs structure. She acts as an icon in this track, singing harshly about human rights, among other subjects. The following track 'Manhattan' is one of my favourites from this release. The rhythmic piano riff is catchy, with a dash of reverb and an ounce of beauty. The loose electronic drum beat is well polished, with a characteristic vocal by Power. It's a lovely five minute track that seems like a constant build-up, but is in fact the finishing piece. There's no kick, no end, it's a simplistic, minimalistic Cat Power track.
Cat Power's history, both musical and private, has been well documented. She's never quite left the music scene since she entered, and Sun is the album that can get her out of it, or take her to the next step. This change in direction is because of a change in Chan Marshall, whether you like it or not, this is a different Cat Power to that of The Greatest, Moon Pix and Dear Sir. 'Silent Machine' has some nice musical moments, specifically with the guitar and the long and ear heart warming Cat Power vocal drones. The moments of electronic madness add a level of excitement to Power's music. This track is in fact an old Cat Power track from 1998, which she recorded live and never released. Its a nice warm up to the brilliant penultimate track 'Nothin But Time'. The loud synthesizer drone is certainly the most uplifting piece of instrumentation on the album. The piano is genuine and firm. This is a very solid track, with Power singing a very delicate song. The drumming is loud, eager and pumping. It puts the track on a different level, with images of Primal Scream flooding back to me due to their uplifting style of music. The background guitar is phenomenal and very effective. At over 10 minutes long, this is a very very long track for Cat Power. Six minutes in to this ecliptic track and Iggy Pop pops up. I don't quite know why he's here and why he's here. He just is... He backs Cat Power in delivering the refrain, "The world is just beginning." They use each others voice to combine and sound like David Bowie singing 'Hereos'. Cracking stuff from Cat and it's nice to see Iggy put his name to something respectful rather than car insurance or french covers.
The album closes with 'Peace And Love'. The chord progression doest suit the rest of 'Sun', but the track does stand up as an album closer. The guitar is very squeaky and reverberated. Cat Power sings a fast paced track, delivering the 'nananananana's' on the chorus with ease. It's almost a James Bond sounding track, with the little lead guitar section raising with desire and doubt. It does finish suddenly, and with surprise of that. Cat Power albums tend to finish rather quiet and dreary. Sun seems to end on somewhat of a high. A loud fast paced track that doesn't seem to belong. Nothin But Time would have been an ideal finisher to Cat Power's ninth and most rounded album. She can be forgiven for having an uplifting 'anthem' as a closing track on an album which she funded herself, produced herself and worked on herself for years.
Sun does raise a few questions on whether or not Cat Power is in the same boat as she was, four to six years ago. Her widespread success and 'happy' period was between 2003 and 2006. We're in a different decade now. Music is different (slightly..), however, Cat Power is different. Sun is a different Cat Power album that fits with today's sound. She still has her soulful voice and sparse way of recording. Electronics have made their way on to Sun, and this is what people need to think about when listening to Sun. The few 'single' material tracks are actually radio friendly and easily assessable, with Cat Power's good old piano shining through once again. These 'skeletal' tracks (as they were once mentioned in the past), have their identity back with the good old piano and guitar Cat Power is most known for. She's still known and still one of my favourite female artists.