Ayuh Music: Cat Power + Commenter Playlist Challenge!

I have lots of guilty pleasures, and one of them is that I never say Cat Power’s name. I sing it, instead, the way Homer Simpson sings about his name that he got from Marge’s hair-dryer.

(Sorry about the quality. It was either that or a clip in Spanish, which is TOTES AWESOME, but not precisely what i needed.)

So. Cat Power! Like Homer, she took her name from machinery – the Caterpillar heavy machinery manufacturer – but that’s where the comparisons end. Chan Marshall (her real name) grew up in the American South and moved to New York at the age of twenty, where she began a music career primarily as a way (by her own admission) to hang with her friends and do drugs. However, her talent couldn’t be hidden for long, and when a member of Sonic Youth saw her open for Liz Phair, it wasn’t long before she was signed and making records. It’s her 2003 album, You Are Free, that I’m going to review, as it’s the first album by Cat Power that I heard, and still the one that carries the deepest associations for me. I first heard it in my freshman year of college and still the songs evoke the feelings and surroundings of that year.

You Are Free opens with a sequence of piano chords that set the tone for the album: measured and contemplative, in a faintly minor key that adds just the right amount of tension. The song itself, “I Don’t Blame You,” is rumoured to be about Kurt Cobain, and it’s a ballsy choice to open an album with a song about a fellow musician now dead from suicide.


Marshall has said in interviews that the she struggled with alcoholism and depression for years herself, although she refuses to discuss the subject of the song. Regardless, “I Don’t Blame You” is a gorgeous and well-fitting beginning to You Are Free, as it’s a record fraught with images of loss and vulnerability.

Please welcome this year's winner of the Best Indie Hairstyle competition, Cat Power

From the simple “Names,” a catalogue of the drug addicted, abused, and generally innocence-lost children Marshall knew while growing up, to the eerie “Werewolf,” which tells the story of a man lost in his own animal nature, You Are Free doesn’t shy away from exploring the wounded and the exposed. The hard-rocking “He War” with its raw bass and power chords is confrontational; “Half of You” is tender and loving with atmospheric strings; the flat drums and low picking in “Babydoll” are whispered and sympathetic. Each of these songs, though, express a longing for something that is gone and can never be recovered. Whether it’s a relationship, a home, a state or peace of mind, Marshall mourns for it, yearns for its presence, and we grieve with her.

Then there’s the heartbreaking “Good Woman,” which I present without comment, other than to say that this was my breakup song of choice at the end of one of my most cherished relationships:

(I might be crying right now.)

As on many of her albums, Marshall also includes a few covers on You Are Free. The great John Lee Hooker is represented with “Keep On Runnin’ (Crawlin’ Black Spider)” is here, throaty and deep, slowed way down. “Werewolf” is originally a Michael Hurley composition, and Marshall more than does it justice – it might be my favourite song on the album.

The trick that makes the album so great is that there is no trick. There’s no flash, no showboating or unnecessary flourishes, even with Eddie Vedder guesting on a few tracks as lead guitar. The melodies on You Are Free are all composed of short phrases, repeated without elaboration, either on piano or guitar. Marshall layers her voice over the top in two- or three-part harmonies – she’s very much a live performer rather than a studio girl, and so she tinkers with her songs as little as possible to make sure they still sound the same when she plays them live as when she records them. The result is an collection of songs as pleasing in its simplicity as in its excellence.

 

 

Right, so that’s it for the review, but guess what, P-Maggers, there’s MORE!

I’m a huge playlist nerd – I often will just open up my iTunes and start making lists of songs that share a common variable. Songs about colours, for example, or a twelve-song set that names each month in the year. Currently, my favorite playlist is entitled “meta,” and it contains only songs that mention other musical artists in the title – including such gems as Camera Obscura’s “Dory Previn,” Dan Bern’s “Kurt Cobain,” and The Wombat’s incredible “Let’s Dance To Joy Division.”

So, to get people commenting, I’m starting Playlist Challenges heree! Each week, I’ll post a theme, and I want you to contribute a song to the playlist – either through a YouTube video or just a simple title. Next week, I’ll compile all the entries and list them for you.

This week’s theme: I want your favourite dance tune! What’s your absolute first request for any dance DJ at a party or in a nightclub, or what do you dance to in your bedroom (in your pants!) when no-one’s listening? Send it in to me! Here’s a song by Scandinavian wonders the Sounds to get you thinking (and grooving):

Till next week, Persephoneers!

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Dr. Song

Dr Song is an archaeologist, in exile from the great state of Maine. Her life motto is "Hold fast." Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dr__song

29 thoughts on “Ayuh Music: Cat Power + Commenter Playlist Challenge!”

  1. i’ve always wanted to be into cat power, but i can never really motivate myself to listen to any of her stuff.  maybe i’ll give it another go.

    anyway, right now, the song that puts me in a kick ass, feel good, i wanna dance kind of mood is this:

    Shooting Stars by Bag Raiders

     

     

  2. I want to like Cat Power, but I can’t.  I saw her at the Apollo Theater a few years ago, and it was one of the most bizarre and uncomfortable shows ever.  Doesn’t she have severe stagefright issues, too?  Anyhoo, my two favorite songs of hers are “Living Proof” and “The Greatest”.

     

    My favorite song to dance to ALONE at home is Billy Idol’s, “Dancing with Myself”.

    1. She has had severe stage-fright issues, yes, although recently her shows have become a lot more polished and professional. This coincides with her getting sober, and onto som anti-anxiety meds. (I read this in the NYTimes years ago. I can find the citation somewhere…)

  3. There are some songs from the late 80s and early 90s that I just can’t help but dance to, no matter how cheesy they are. “Ice Ice Baby” comes to mind as does C&C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat.” I also like old stuff like “Land of 1,000 Dances” or Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary.” My current modern favorite, though, is Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope” but it’s actually got a classic 60s soul vibe to it.

     

  4. Pretty much anything off of Living in America makes me dance dancey. That album came into my life at a time when I was a ski bum party girl and it was perfect for both the hill and the regular house parties we used to throw. Ah youth! My go-to getting-ready song these days is Raphael Saadiq’s “Let’s Take A Walk”. Sexy and fun. I also like to get super nostalgic with Lucy Pearl. R&B from the 90’s was so great.

  5. My humble submission for songs that I MUST DANCE TO is a little ditty by Los Campesinos called You! Me! Dancing!

    There’s several recorded versions available, my most favourite being the version from 2007

     

     

    (sorry, I’m really attempting to embed this video, but it is just not working)

    1. Oh I love dancing/singing to this song.

      My BF and I also have an inside joke related to it. One day, we were finding a bunch of karaoke videos on Youtube to sing to, and we came across one for I’m Gonna Be. So we started singing it, no problem, until we got to the refrain…

      Instead of going “dun dundalun dunalun dunalun da da da” and such…

      It said “licka licka licka licka licka licka da da da.”

      So, to this day, we can’t sing the song when it comes on the radio without at least one of us going licka licka licka.

  6. Slightly off topic, but I once went as “Power Cat” (a creature fully sprung from my fecund 7-year-old mind) for Halloween.  The “costume” involved wearing my grandmother’s old stole as a tail, a bathing suit, a cape, and a hat with a veil (which I wore backwards), and “power cat makeup” — a hideous combination of colors that made me look less feline and more just deranged.

    That’s what I think of every time I see Cat Power mentioned online.

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