Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cat Power - Moon Pix (1998)

3.5 ★/7.0 - 7.9

Many people look up to female musicians because they're an empowering image of the confidence and accomplishments that a woman can attain in a male-dominated world which purportedly aims to keep females in social and psychological depression. You know the scenes - burn the bras, riot grrl, etc. Chan Marshall definitely isn’t one of those musicians. Anyone who's seen her live has had experience with her shambling performances. Her nervousness on stage insures that those looking for inspiration are gonna come out malcontent. Besides, her music isn’t exactly the confident stuff your average feminist would want to keep in her collection anyways. Moon Pix, in particular, sounds like the consequence of too many lonely hazy nights spent browsing black-and-white photos of dead loved ones. But with it, Chan proves you don't need an empowering image to be accomplished.

Previous Cat Power albums were urgent and amateur sounding while Moon Pix’s astute mixing suggests more aesthetic thinking. There are sophisticated and subtle textures at work that make it as unsettling and confrontational as Chan's early work, such as the intricate guitar interplay on "No Sense" or the plodding backwards drums and gentle feedback on "American Flag." But while Chan’s songs are no longer exhaustive with conflict, they’re still emotionally resounding. The guitar line on "Say" is as desolate as the gray skies and thunder storm sound effects it inspires. And that’s before Chan’s desperately pleading whine is hauntingly over dubbed to suggest sheer heartbreak. There’s a certain sarcastic bitterness when she sings, “Never give up,” and “no one is around but we’ll always love you”. And surprisingly enough, it’s not all hopelessness. "You May Know Him", an acoustic guitar ballad, suggests more optimism than any of Chan’s other recordings. “Lord, I've never doubted for an instant...you came through,” she sings over ascending major chords. "Color And The Kids" follows and for over 6 minutes, Chan delivers her most touching performance over a sparse reflective piano melody. "When we were teenagers, we wanted to be the sky, now all we wanna do is go to red places and try to stay outta hell," she utters, painting a vivid picture of reminiscence and euphoria, without sinking into depression. And completing the greatest stretch of the album is haunting single, "Cross Bones Style" which, from Chan's seductive moans to the chugging rhythm, is arguably the most dauntless thing she's ever recorded.

With Moon Pix, Chan Marshall discredits the stereotype that you need complete confidence and activist tendencies to be an ideal female model, by portraying the courage that can be found in weariness. And while it makes for a long winded and depressing album which ultimately may fall short of perfection ("Moonshiner" and "Peking Saint" are pretty dull), it's still an enormous step forward. After all, part of the show when you go to see her live is witnessing her anxiety in all it’s starkness. It makes those moments when she does express a glimmer of hope and confidence so much more revelatory.

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