Is this really the same Faris Badwan who once recorded an album of fierce goth-punk with The Horrors, with track titles like ‘Sheena is a Parasite’? Having heard this second LP from Cat’s Eyes – a tie-up with Canadian musician and soprano Rachel Zeffira – one’s first instinct is to squint back at Badwan’s early discography with a sizeable sense of incredulity. In the space of a decade, the 29 year-old has lifted his music from the gutter and pushed it upwards towards the skies. Yet today Badwan sounds like he’s always belonged there.
Of course, this has been no sudden ascension. Back in 2011, third Horrors album ‘Skying’ fully jettisoned the crunching guitars and frantic synthesisers of earlier fare and left them nose-diving in its wake, charting a new course through the clouds that took in dreamy 4AD influences like Cocteau Twins and early-90s shoegaze. But that release – and the following ‘Luminous’ – still sounded firmly rooted in alternative rock music, however experimental the interpretation.
With Cat’s Eyes, Badwan and Zeffira rely heavily on the classical background and multi-instrumental prowess of the latter to escape the boundaries of that genre. The pair’s 2011 debut painted the Cat’s Eyes template in broad strokes: grandiose strings and Zeffira’s pristine vocals interspersed with 60s-influenced rhythms and analogue electronics. At its best, it was an album of transcendental beauty (‘I Knew It Was Over’). At its worst, it could be gratingly indulgent (‘Sooner Or Later’).
On ‘Treasure House’, the balance has shifted well towards the former, even if there are still irritations, in Zeffira’s 60s doo-wop exercise ‘Be Careful Where You Park Your Car’ (incongruous here) and Badwan’s succeeding track ‘Standoff’, which comes off a little heavy-handed. Otherwise, this is a masterfully nuanced and ambitious LP. On ‘Chameleon Queen’ the two manage to channel both John Grant (check Badwan’s bittersweet baritone in saying goodbye to an ex) and the Kinks (ditto the trumpets, triumphantly blaring away), with a juxtaposition that shouldn’t work but really does. The excellent ‘Girl in the Room’ then starts off like a gorgeous lost Broadcast song, before being dragged away by the undercurrent as waves of John Barry strings wash over it all.
Best of all is all-too-brief closer ‘Teardrops’. Zeffira’s spectral quiver just barely stays afloat atop a delicate Philip Glass-style piano melody, before drifting into silence. Sublime and hopefully an indication of things to come, this is where Badwan and Zeffira move beyond even the skies, towards the heavens.
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