A Cat Escaped, the new CD from London-based international pop duo, Pipas, is 10 tracks of blissful, summery dance-pop. Theirs is the kind of sound that could make a dance-music detractor like myself want to re-explore the genre. Where Pipas succeeds is in its softness -- the beats are all subdued, subtle, and precise. Band members Mark Powell and Lupe Nunez-Fernandez take everything very slowly, Lupe's languid vocals ease over Powell's intricate guitars and perfectly programmed drum machine, making for an excellent release this promising group.
Their third release, following the well-received A Short Film About Sleeping (Matinee) and Chunnel Autumnal (Long Lost Cousin), Cat kicks off with the riotous sounds of "What Nobody Does", a gorgeous, stream-of-consciousness song with an unrelentingly catchy chorus, robotic bips and blips and Nunez-Fernandez's elegant dry vocal running throughout with harmonies from the equally mechanical Powell.
The song perfectly demonstrates how effective such stilted sound can be when melded with a deep, pulsating -- but never overbearing -- dance beat. It's also alarmingly simple, so relaxed and yet so utterly precise. Nunez-Fernandez leaves herself little room for vocal theatrics, carefully sticking close to the format and speed of each song, as though she is somewhat of a robot herself. The effect is magical, an almost trance-like experience to listen to. It's a quality that continues throughout the collection.
This isn't to say that Nunez-Fernandez is incapable of altering her sound -- she manages expertly to shift her vocals from light and breezy to dark and moody with each song. "Barbapapa" has the singer employing a deeper vocal as she sings a mysterious, captivating tale from the perspective of a woman reminiscing about a failed relationship. Her tonal shift to something a little more shady suits the song perfectly, as in the beginning we're left to wonder if she's not some kind of stalker ("So I started on your trail / All the way from A to Z / There were problems of course / But I couldn't understand / Why they weren't mine too") before realizing, maybe she's just confused, lost in fantasy ("I don't want to go by myself / To Mexico / On a rollerblade").
From there on in, Nunez-Fernandez seems to decide with which voice to sing depending on her song's themes with her rhythms rarely swaying from the songs' structured beats. Gloomier tracks "Old Kent Road" and "The Witches" retain her ominous vocal, before lifting to a sufficient lilt on "Run, Run, Run" and "The Conversation".
Nunez-Fernandez and Powell are also skilled lyricists, their tracks each featuring smart, meditative -- sometimes ironic and funny -- lyrics adding a refined wisdom to their album. "I don't want you to tell me / What the original means / I don't want you to innocently record it again / You forgot so very fast that you owed me 20 quid", Nunez-Fernandez sings on "The Witches", before spouting, "Oh being with you / Is like killing Bob Dylan / If I had to do it / I would die" on "Cruel and Unusual" and "Run, run, run / The sun's gonna fall / If you don't look now / I think I'm gonna go," on the fascinating "Run, Run, Run".
Though less than 20 minutes in length, A Cat Escaped manages in this short time to be one of last year's best and most innovative releases, straying completely from the norm, with two tantalizing talents in Nunez-Fernandez and Powell mixing complicated riffs and tongue-twisting lyrics with simplicity and an exact style purposefully taking their time to eventually blow your mind.