[25 July 2014]
Kitten is a Los Angeles-based band that is basically one big revolving door – band members have come and gone and come and gone again. Trying to keep track is a little like trying to keep the various lineups of Guided by Voices straight. However, like GbV, Kitten is really a vehicle for its front-person, in this case that would be 19-year-old Chloe Chaidez. There’s an important distinction to keep in mind when listening to Kitten – Chaidez’s age – because the outfit has a throwback sound that largely recalls faithfully rendered ’80s-style retro pop and new wave. If you do the math, that means that Chaidez wasn’t even around and born by the time the ‘80s were fading into the rear view.
So Kitten is essentially a band that tries to recapture a sound that the ringleader wasn’t alive for. That the group pulls it off is either a testament to devoted praying at the altar of the Eurythmics et al, or it smacks of being a little too reverential. Me? I’m on the latter side of the fence. Let me put it this way: if I wanted to hear something from the synth-pop laden decade, I’d go into my closets and dig up my old ‘Til Tuesday and Depeche Mode records, not someone trying to faithfully reconstruct music of that era, which, truth be told, is probably the one era of popular music that hasn’t aged all that gracefully. Even disco has more classic moments that ‘80s pop.
Still, there is the odd bit of Kitten, the album, that will hold the listener’s attention. Much ink has been spilled in the press at how commanding a stage presence Chaidez is, and how she has pipes that are worthy of any great singer. And I’ll have to confess that the girl has some level of talent, with a breathy sound that’s silky. It’s not the very best thing I’ve heard in the world, but her singing is pretty good and seems remotely Terri Nunn-esque. If you’re into that kind of thing. And Kitten, which has been described countless times as being something of a mixtape in feel with varying styles (but not too varying), does boast some interesting material. I think the most memorable thing comes at the very end of this roughly 53 minute record: “Apples and Cigarettes” (now there’s an unlikely pairing) is a stripped-down acoustic guitar ballad that allows Chaidez to take center stage. It seems so remotely different from what preceded it that it’s a bit weird that it’s included, but, if the final song points the way to the next album, then it’s a good indication of where Kitten’s future sound might be heading – away from reverence and into something of its own. Which would be a very great thing if this would transpire and come to fruition.
Elsewhere, “Cathedral” is a pretty good soundalike to “Take My Breath Away”, and is a nice ballady song. And “G#” is notable for having a shoegazery guitar sound that accentuates Chaidez’s rock style quite nicely. Opening track “Like a Stranger” has a decent Erasure meets Nu Shooz feel to it with its orchestral stabs, although at a tick more than five minutes long, it somehow feels much longer than that, and could have used a bit of judicious pruning. And “Sex Drive” has a fairly Chic slither to it: it’s a bit funky, though, come to think of it, I think the outfit was really referencing Prince and not Chic, as that might be going back too far in its influences.
Despite these moments of greatness or near greatness, the problem with Kitten is that it’s too gosh darn long. It just goes on and on, and a great deal of the material just blurs into itself and it becomes hard to pick out highlights, at least on an initial listen. Music is supposed to move you and make you feel something. I listen to Kitten and just feel ... nothing. It’s, like, meh. And it’s hard to put a finger on as to why that it is, but it may be because none of these songs eclipse the songs of the era that it’s trying to rotoscope. In 30 years from now, Kitten may be more of a footnote because of this. And with the advent of chillwave, chances are that you’ve heard this kind of thing done to death, over and over again. I don’t know that it is about the ‘80s that attracts young musicians, particularly those who weren’t even alive for that decade’s duration, but there it is. Someone explain this to me.
So, in the end, Kitten feels like a middling affair. It’s decent enough, but will probably appeal best to those who have never heard a synthpop song and think that this is original and daring. The thing is, Kitten is neither original nor daring enough. This is just the same old, same old schtick that has already been mined to death. There was a reason why ‘80s music has largely receded from memory, and that reason is the same reason why disco is looked at with some derision today: with the rare exception, it just isn’t all that very good.
However, if this sort of thing is your bag and you’re a young person who missed the decade, you would be better off scouring the used vinyl bins at your local record store and coming away with a stack of classic or near classic albums from the era for the pithy price of a buck each, or maybe even lower. Going this route will grant you cheaper finds, and you’ll be getting the authentic deal – not just an act that is merely copping the music of the past without adding much of anything new to the sound. Kitten may be a young band, but it has an old style. That it partially misses the mark is just an example of music being way too regressive for its own good.