Artist: Cat Power
Label: Domino Recording Company
Non-Airable Tracks: None
Cat Power released Wanderer, her 10th studio album, on October 5th, 2018. This marks her first release since 1996 not put out under Matador Records – the two parted ways in between the release of her 2012 album Sun and the writing/recording process of a new project, citing artistic differences. Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power) noted that she wanted to move away from the more “pop” stylings of her more recent output in favor of something she felt to be more personally authentic and self-driven, and eschewed the pressure put on her to produce a commercially well-performing record. There was also a number of other significant sources of change in her life at this point, including a divorce and the birth of her first child. During this period of transition, Wanderer was recorded over the course of a few years, and was entirely written, performed, and produced by Marshall, with the exception of guest vocals from Lana Del Rey on the track ‘Woman’, the track ‘Stay’, which is a cover, and some trumpet and string parts. But, enough of the drama and backstory – let’s talk about the music.
This is a very retrospective work in many ways. Much of the album is very reflective, and Marshall reminisces both on her own life and career as a musician, as well as those of many of the folk and blues musicians she admires and has been influenced by. This is true musically as well – this album is characterized by the sparse (borderline unfinished, to some), melancholy lo-fi arrangements of Cat Power’s earlier work. However, these calls back to her earlier work are combined with a sense of maturity and polish to create an uncompromising, yet still vulnerable album. Most of the songwriting features her distinct vocals and lyrics as the focal point, accompanied by straightforward, often minimal guitars and keyboards. On some, though, she dips into more recent arrangement and instrumentation styles, using warm, dreamy synthesizers (there’s some really cool synth-y and vocoder sections on the track ‘Horizon’), trumpets, and string sections to create a more lush, fleshed out soundscape.
Thematically, motion, travel, and past feelings rootlessness contrasted with a newfound grounding in life are central throughout. There is a sense of looking back to her past, but also looking at how much she’s changed and all of the different experiences she’s lived, and the confidence that comes with that. This is especially evident on (in my opinion) one of the highlight tracks of the album, ‘Woman’. This song, featuring vocals from Lana Del Rey (who I wouldn’t have first guessed as a potential collaborator, but I think she fits really well on this), centers around both her identity as a musician and as a woman empowered by her lived experience and by reaching a point in her life where she really doesn’t care what most people think – basically a middle finger to the male-dominated music industry that she came up in (and still largely operates today). Another high point of the album is ‘Stay’, originally performed by Rihanna – also a perfect reflection of the old and new coming together on this album, with the combination of Marshall’s love of covers with the fairly modern song choice.
This is a solid Cat Power album – while the pacing gets a bit slow, and the songs can seem very similar to each other and run together after a while due to the shared minimal arrangements and overall low-key nature, this release is both a familiar and refreshing return to Marshall’s roots as an artist.
Sounds Like: Neko Case, CocoRosie, Feist, PJ Harvey, Sharon Van Etten
Woman (ft. Lana Del Rey)
Reviewer’s Name: Gabrielle
Date of Review: 10/31/2018