Seems like a lot of music today comes as the result of a mish-mash of different styles: bluegrass meets jazz, punk meets folk with some funky beats thrown in, Latin sambas meet hip-hop, and on and on into infinite possibilities. Some of these combos work, and some come up short. The Cat Empire, out of Australia, come at you with their own hash of ska and Latin rhythms with a fine thread of latter-day hip-hop running subtly through. The mix certainly looks intriguing on paper, but in the ear, their eponymous release leaves a bit to be desired.
The beats and rhythms are pleasant enough – a thumping, danceable stew that’s dense with ideas. The Cat Empire piles a nice helping of tasty trumpet on top, and a load of keys help add the melodic line. So far, so good. The problems occur when the vocals kick in. The lyrics aren’t quite sung or rapped or spoken or whatever they call singing in traditional ska music. The word I’d used to describe it is “shouting,” and it isn’t pleasant to listen to. On top of that, there’s a strange mélange of accents that seem to change from song to song and verse to verse that probably should be charming but instead come off as nauseating. This is punctuated on the track “The Crowd” when a guest female vocalist is added to the mix and automatically tightens up the sound of the band.
That isn’t to say the whole album isn’t worthwhile. Ironically, the music that seems to push itself as upbeat party music is at its best when it is slowed down and the volume is reduced to a pleasant quietness. “The Lost Song” is a good example of this, and “The Chariot” - the sort of centerpiece tune of the album - is a nice quiet number. This leaves an unhealthy dichotomy to the whole with the music seeming to not take itself as seriously as it asks its listeners to.
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