The Cat Empire: So Many Nights

Horns, horns, and more horns (plus a little Cuban-inspired rhythm) make for plenty of fun songs.

The Cat Empire

So Many Nights

Label: Velour
US Release Date: 2008-04-22
UK Release Date: 2008-04-22

Young bands rarely have their own sound, at least not out of the gate anyway. Normally, they have to work through a few tedious years of sounding generic before -- if they're lucky -- finding a voice worth hearing. Australia's the Cat Empire are luckier than most. Their career arc has found them getting progressively stronger since their formation in 1999, but even early on, they were working at a unique blend of club shimmy, jazz horns, and Latin rhythms. It was only a matter of time before the whole thing either imploded or started coming together. Luckily, it was the latter.

Like Calexico, the Cat Empire use horns and use them well. Their horn arrangements, courtesy of member Ross Irwin, are often spectacular and creative, making intriguing songs out of what would normally just be decent ones, and taking really good songs to new heights entirely. To hear the Cat Empire's horns is to hear what's seriously lacking in so many other bands: a willingness to step past the familiar boundaries of guitar/bass/drums/keyboards boundaries. This is, by and large, party music, but when you hear the way the trumpets blaze over the playful piano in "Fishies", you can tell that the Cat Empire have a pretty clear idea of what they're doing.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the band also know their way around a baker's dozen of different styles, from funk to ska to soul to jazz to latin. Their previous disc, 2005's Two Shoes, was even recorded in Havana, Cuba, and the band's forays into Latin grooves never felt like they were the work of dilettantes. Cat Empire's music is often the sound of nighttime clubs and parties, and Felix Riebl's hipster-speak vocals are a natural fit for the band's slinky rhythms.

So Many Nights isn't the nonstop party that Two Shoes was, but it might be the more interesting record, even though it ebbs and flows more in terms of quality. Where Two Shoes sometimes got by on irrepressible energy, So Many Nights actually slows things down on occasion, courtesy of several more sensitive songs that typically build to sweeping crescendos, and tries to broaden the Cat Empire's sound a bit. Witness the Verve-worthy slow build of "Panama", the desert feel of "The Darkness", the Coldplay pop of "No Longer There", or the blend of Cuban percussion and ska bounce in "Radio Song". It might not always work, but the Cat Empire seem intent on expanding their palette a little bit.

The band's success still comes down to the horns, though. Trumpeter Harry James Angus and the Empire Horns are thankfully all over So Many Nights, contributing jazz squalls to "Fishies" and "Strong Coffee", lockstep walls of sound that could propel Ricky Martin's precision hips on "Sunny Moon" and "Radio Song", and dizzying dust devils of notes on "The Darkness". Over it all, Riebl sings of women, clubs, women, parties, women, life on the road, and more women, while Angus's reedy vocals add contrast through a few songs of his own.

The only real sonic misstep on So Many Nights is the inclusion of too much turntable scratching, which rarely adds anything to Cat Empire's songs and which actually acts as a distraction on a few. Other than that, despite a few songs not measuring up to their companions, So Many Nights finds the Cat Empire broadening their sound with an enthusiasm that matches the fun-seeking "seize the night" attitude that lives in their songs.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.