The Cat Empire’s “Cinema”

“So with interesting lyrical story lines and magical instrumental combinations, the Cat Empire is still doing it right.” -VP

Luke Goddard

out of 10

July 6, 2010

I always thought a lot of good dance-induced music with catchy hooks, bombastic beats and electrifying colour came from Australia—think Cut Copy, PNAU, Empire of the Sun, The Presets, etc. The Cat Empire is no exception to that trend. Their modern melting pot of musical genres, flavours and instrumental waves just hits the spot. I remember listening to their self-titled debut album back in 2003 and thinking it was definitely kick ass, sexily kinetic and funky to a T.

Now, those who’ve never heard the Cat Empire before Cinema, their latest release, won’t know what they’re missing. And I say that with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. Here’s why. When I unzipped the file and imported it into my iTunes I was already expecting (giddily) a cacophony of horns, Latin inspired saucy rhythms and hip-hoppy jazz balloons that would fill to the rim and pop on excitement alone.

Instead I got something a little tamer. But that’s not to say it’s at all bad. I mean, the instruments are still pulling their way through the music, but instead of shining like they usually do (horns blasting left and right, tambourines having seizures, hearing the deck go loose, percussion trembling) they are a little more subdued—but not at all boring. The instrumentation is absolutely dynamic and showy still, and to a new ear they sound really beautifully energetic. It’s still good, but propped up to previous albums they feel a little more resigned, less excited to blast off.

In “Falling,” the energy is pretty much up—horns are in and out, tambourines are having tiny spasms and the deck is bumpin’. The sound is definitely more mature and now even more zeroed in on the vocals—which isn’t bad, but just a different shift.

The jazz and Latin vibes are definitely still there though, which I’m really happy about. They’ve got the vocals sliding in between each genre, tying them together seamlessly. It’s a nice transition from each different track, which brings in new sounds using the same instruments. You won’t get sick of the trumpets or that keyboard, but now you’ll appreciate the vocals more. And I love that there are still breaks with lights shining directly on each instrument because it showcases the guys’ instrumental knowledge and talent.

And damn, can they write some catchy hooks. Songs like “On My Way,” “Shoulders,” and “Feelings Good” keep your head bobbing as you’re trying to figure out how to sing-a-long. And “The Heart Is A Cannibal” is definitely one to remember with its afro-beat drumming into your heart—it’s one of the more upbeat tracks while still pushing an emotion deeper than just surface despair. It’s a great juxtaposition.

So with interesting lyrical story lines and magical instrumental combinations, the Cat Empire is still doing it right. But if you’re expecting something along the lines of their previous albums—music with a little more punch—this one isn’t the one. Instead it has slowed down, become more cinematic (as the title suggests) and definitely matured, sounding at bay. Though to the new ear, Cinema is an album that you can and will enjoy just about anywhere.

–Victoria Phetmisy, July 19, 2010