Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Pussy Galore




Cat Power Purrs! Destroyer Kills!


The only drag about living in the Information Age is that there are no miracles, just miraculous statistical anomolies otherwise known as coincidence. True story -- happened on November 21st , 2002, 35 miles south of Birmingham, Alabama, according to the New York Times -- two sisters decided to make unannounced visits to each other's houses, at exactly the same time. They both died in a head-on crash -- with each other. Tragic? Sure. Freakish? You bet. Impossible? Statistically speaking, nothing is impossible. There are enough people now living on Earth that anything can and eventually will happen.

Consider that the average person will have a "million-to-one" coincidence happen to them every three years. Most of them will be pretty meaningless, nearly all of it will pass without notice or remembrance. But every now and then, lightning will strike twice. I am talking about the new Destroyer and Cat Power albums, of course. Released within weeks of each other, Cat Power's The Greatest and Destroyer's Rubies finds two infamously inscrutable artists, whose careers heretofore have been unrelated, making big, beautifully understated records that run into each by accident. Both walk away without a scratch. Coincidence? Absolutely.

What binds these two is a borderline artistic personality: blurry, unstable self-images moodswinging in and out of recognizability. Are they who they sing they are? For Destroyer this is a parlor game, for Cat Power it's closer to a plea for medication. Destroyer is essentially Dan Bejar, inscrutable weird-beard Vancouver pop-savant, perhaps better known for contributing the best songs on New Pornographer's albums. Every Destroyer album seems to have amnesia about the one that came before -- it could be shambling, pretzel-twist indie-pop; could be guitar-less synth-pap or it could be classic-rock burlesque. But each can be counted on for any number of things: nimble playing, verbal jousting, eviscerating wit, rug-pulling plot twists, absurd putdowns, ridiculous assertions, outrageous dares, unnanswered prayers, curses and imprecations, tasty licks and a few killer hooks. If ever there was a songwriter who writes for the critics it's Bejar. And the funny thing is critics give themselves hemoroids trying to explain the why and the what-it-all-means, but with Bejar that's besides the point. Mostly, he's just fucking with you. And still they soft-shoe around their typewriters like Vaudville hams, desperately trying to pull the Titanic out of a tophat. Bejar chuckles at their tongue-tied folly and shrugs. "I'm just another West Coast maximalist exploring the blues, ignoring the news" he sings on the new album as if daring them to drop it in the review, before pirating the ghost ship of Neil Young's "Down By The River".

On The Greatest, Cat Power is just another Southern folk-blues minimalist exploring R&B who makes the news when she gets spooked and cancels a tour. Cat Power is, of course, the lovely Chan Marshall, 10 years into an acclaimed career as indie's most spellbinding, yet easily freaked folkie. Her new album finds her working with a cast of Memphis soul session legends, guys with names like Teenie and Flick who've backed up the likes of Al Green, Booker T. and Aretha Franklin. She recorded in Ardent studios, birthplace of Big Star's Sister Lovers, the Rosetta Stone of artily damaged mope-rock, but this time out she never sounds mopey or damaged, having traded her Ophelia-with-a-guitar persona for Dusty In Memphis's white go-go boots. If it sounds like a mid-career stab at being a grown-up, she wears it well. Sure, grown-ups can be a little drifty and dull at times, but they don't flub their lines and they finish their songs like the vegetables on their plate.

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