Music

Cat Power: You Are Free

Matthew Despres

Cat Power

You Are Free

Label: Matador
Amazon
iTunes

As Cat Power, singer/songwriter Chan Marshall remains a stranger to us all, five albums into a career of constructing elementary musical highs lined with devastating emotional lows. Hers is a voice that tugs on the heartstrings of boys seeking refuge in its vulnerability and inspires a subtle defiance in others with its determination to kick, scream, and, if need be, crawl under pressure rather than simply sit down. Note by note, you can feel a world of hurt being liberated by her lullaby voice, the dark ruminations spilling out in a way so honey-sweet and naturally bitter you won't realize the damage done until the last note has fallen away.

On You Are Free, Marshall's first album of original Cat Power material since 1998's Moon Pix, the singer digs in her trunk for dressings both old and new. What she emerges with are the down turned lips of a piano balladeer, the solemn introspection of a folk minstrel, and the smiling, optimistic thoughts of a girl, her guitar, and the friends who happened by to support her muse. The combination is at once frustratingly difficult and likely the most beautiful sound you'll hear this year.

"You were swinging your guitar around, cause they wanted to hear that sound that you didn't want to play / I don't blame you, I don't blame you", whispers Marshall on "I Don't Blame You". The song doubles as the album's threshold and most damning moment of interpretation: the delayed voice that apprehensively hovers over the nodding piano arrangement here implicates more than Marshall may have intended -- namely, herself. It's a mirror confession by a not-so thinly veiled public self, staggering a self-conscious second behind and questioning its need to be heard at all.

More often, though, the power in Marshall's humility wins out over its reluctant surface, and she moves forward from the doubt to embrace a more abstract sense of identity. The self-referential vocals are a haunting addition -- definition leaves her lyrics and meaning is achieved instead through the sound of her voice.

Like on "Werewolf", the Michael Hurley cover she redresses with a film of shivering violins. Beautifully arranged, it evokes moments of uncomfortable intimacy, as does "Good Woman", arguably her best effort here. A simple, fingerpicked expression of loves many losses, Marshall nearly cries her way towards the subliminal tension provided by guest Eddie Vedder in the closing verses. Seldom does restraint sing so loudly.

And when tasteful reserve does make a call to rock, Marshall salutes. The toy-piano introduction on "He War" yields to buzzing guitars and marching drumbeats that slide to a chorus in which she out and out pronounces, pulled from the deep of her gut, the bottled up energy of a woman on the run. The momentum spills out, working over to "Free", a skeletal song snapped into motion by an intermittent, new-wave drum machine, and "Speak for Me", which rewrites conventional song structure by leaving loose ends rough and tying them up into the circular chorus at the end.

When she's caught up with herself, and only then, Marshall is settled enough to pull us in and around her retelling of John Lee Hooker's "Keep on Running". How unique, that she can respond to herself -- and her audience -- through the reflexes of another, the slow blues of a man now dead and buried. Her voice isn't like blood; it is the stuff itself, keeping the overbearing emotion here alive.

The tolling "Evolution" runs itself down at the end, Vedder's voice again a shadow to her already deep end. Humming along like two broken-down lovers, the coupling of the pair implies a second-hand hope; if you've come this far, you can only leave by looking up.

You Are Free isn't the perfect album that the Cat Power community had been hoping for; it's a neighborhood of broken homes, empty streets and backstage alleys open for exploration, a wholly dark scene save for the brief flashes of streetlight optimism. In those moments there are entire worlds to step into, though, and while Marshall will be doing her best to keep a step ahead at every turn, it's a pursuit worth taking on.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.