Friday, March 30, 2012

REVIEW: Cats On Fire - All Blackshirts To Me

Scandinavia boasts a plethora of quality indie bands, but in my opinion Finland's Cats On Fire are second only to The Raveonettes. The band crafts hook-filled, almost ornate, guitar pop with literate lyrics. The band's 2009 LP (Our Temperance Movement) was among my favorites that year, primarily on the strength of the six best tracks, so I was enthusiastic about the opportunity to listen to their new album, All Blackshirts To Me. After a number of spins this week, I have concluded that the new album, overall, is stronger than 2009 effort.

Cats on Fire knows how to make an impression from the opening note. Track 1, "Our Old Centre Back", is a gorgeous track that talks about soccer/football and life, ending with the bittersweet decision of the girl to be with the centre back rather than our narrator. Musically, the song builds from a gentle acoustic guitar to full instrumentation, pauses an 1:48, and builds again. The second track, "My Sense of Pride", provides the album's first single. A song of regret by a somewhat beaten-down narrator reminiscent of the biblical prodigal son, the track delights with an upbeat melody.

The remainder of All Blackshirts to Me continues with track after track of well-crafted songs. Most of the them are mid or uptempo, but "After the Fact" and "1914 and Beyond" offer joy at a more contemplative pace. The latter track is particularly interesting, as it provides observations on European politics and economics in a lovely, piano-based wrapper. "It's Clear Your Former Lover" may be the prettiest song I've heard so far this year. Another standout track, "A Few Empty Waves" is a maritime story about the narrator and his companion, A Portuguese water dog --

The music is urbane, varied and sophisticated. The songs display graceful changes of pace and texture. The lyrics are interesting and Mattias' vocals are top quality. And as impressed as I was with this album at first listen, I am even fonder of it after multiple listens.

Cats on Fire are Mattias Björkas (acoustic guitar, vocals), Ville Hopponen (electric guitar, backing vocals), Kenneth Höglund (bass guitar), Iiris Viljanen (keyboards, backing vocals), and Yrjö Ylijoki (drums). As with their peers Belle & Sebastian and Wake the President, this band has mastered the ability to craft and perform a song that pulls you in and surrounds you until the final note. You shouldn't deny yourself that joy.

All Blackshirts To Me was released this week on Matinée Recordings in the US and Soliti in the Nordic countries.

Twitter ( @catsonfire )
Matinée Recordings (US label)

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