Review of Cat Power’s “Sun”

Chan Marshall has always been a bit of an enigma, but with every album she releases as Cat Power, the undeniably talented singer-songwriter from Georgia reveals just a little more, satisfying fans while retaining her alluring mystique.

My love of Cat Power all started when Marshall burst out of the alternative music backwaters in 1998 with the now-classic Moon Pix. Best exemplified through the track “Metal Heart” (it was later reworked for her 2008 disc Jukebox), Moon Pix was Cat Power’s fourth disc and a particularly beautiful and atmospheric collection that showcased her signature vocals and emotional range.

The dark character on display throughout Moon Pix seemed to mesh with her on-stage persona, too, which has been variously described to me as “awkward”, or in the case of a relative who attended a Cat Power performance, “painful.” Sometimes attributed to alcohol, mental health issues, or straight-up stagefright, Marshall’s reputation for on-stage rambling and abruptly ending shows appeared a projection of her authenticity: she was as dark, fragile, and unpredictable as her music.

Cat Power’s later releases muddied the waters, though. After an LP of covers in 2000, Marshall released the excellent You Are Free in 2003. The disc featured vocals from Eddie Vedder and drums by Dave Grohl, and is as good a counterpoint to Moon Pix as you can get–think more Feist than Tori Amos.

Tending towards straight pop, songs like “He War” approached the vagaries of life and love with the benefits of guitar hooks and sing-song vocals. Though You Are Free was a fantastic LP, more accessible and somehow more intimate feeling than Moon Pix, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking Marshall was hiding her true temperament behind one meant for stardom and public consumption.

And maybe it was a bit of a mask too, because from there things went off the rails. Following 2006’s The Greatest (not a greatest hits album, by the way), Marshall was apparently drowning in debt and facing down some personal demons. Not surprisingly, these experiences influenced her songwriting, but she ultimately discarded the sullen tracks she wrote during this period in favour of bankruptcy and a multi-year hiatus.

Though billed by the drama-hungry mainstream media as a breakup album (Marshall had been linked to actor Giovanni Ribisi for years, but that ended when he suddenly married another woman a few months back), a few listens of the deceptively named Sun reveals broader themes at play. The title points to lightness, and the album’s cover might feature a photo of Marshall with her new post-breakup pixie hairdo, but the lyrics often stray beyond the personal odes to love and loss into social commentary.

For example, the cool-mavens at Pitchfork may have interpreted the lead single “Ruin” as a travelogue, blithely concluding that “If you pay attention, your hometown often has the best ruins,” but I can’t see the song as anything other than a public commentary on Marshall’s fellow Americans.

Sure, she recites the long list of places she’s visited in a staccato riff, beginning with Saudi Arabia and ending “back home, to my town,” but this is not a Fodor’s travel guide put to a bouncing piano-backed rhythm. Instead, Marshall draws a harsh comparison:

“Bitching, complaining when some ṗeople who ain’t got shit to eat / Bitching, moaning, so many people you know they got.”

“What are we doing?” Marshall asks aloud. The answer?  “We’re sitting on a ruin.”

Cheery this ain’t, but the buoyant melodies and snazzy production techniques often obscure the moody orientation.

And so it continues on the track “Real Life,” with Marshall contending that “Real Life is ordinary, sometimes you don’t wanna live / sometimes you gotta do what you don’t wanna do / to get away with an unordinary life.”

On “3,6,9” as bouncy and catchy a tune as any on Sun, Marshall addresses “feeling alone” and “emotionally broke,” and quite openly hints at her longstanding troubles with alcoholism.

But I don’t mean to scare you off of Sun. In fact, it may be Cat Power’s best album to date and features a number of rousing tracks, like “Peace and Love” and the aforementioned “Ruin” that will leave you more energized than spent.

Others, like the impossibly pretty “Nothin But Time” (featuring Iggy Pop’s rich bellows) are punctuated by sweeping synths, upbeat piano, and waves of Marshall’s densely layered, soulful vocals.

“They want to live,” she sings on that tune, “They want to be somebody / They want to give / They want to be wanted”

Pretty universal stuff, I’d say.

But don’t take my word for it: check out Sun in all its glory on the National Public Radio’s First Listens website where it will be streaming until the album hits store on September 4th.

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episode #272 – Summer Break!

A day late, but definitely not a dollar short!  This last episode before our summer hiatus is jam-packed with myboytheriotgirl classics, sprinkled with a few new songs and a mingling of some tracks from underplayed albums from some of our favourite artists.

What three-hour show would be complete without some New Pornographers, Sparklehorse, Spoon, Fiery Furnaces, The Elected, Electrelane, Hefner etc.?  The fact that many of the bands that we built this show on year after year are no longer making new music illustrates part of the reason for this break.  As Mike likes to say, “indie-rock is a young person’s game”.  We don’t have as much time to see late night shows, or listen to music with the attention this show requires.

We haven’t committed to never doing another show, but for now we’re taking a break.  We’re going to be focusing on community, family and weeding!  But before we do that, Mike and I wanted to leave you with a three-hour show that will hopefully find it’s way into your summer rotation.  We think it will sound as good by the lake as it will on a train or in a car or in the garden.  Enjoy!

  1. Beach House – The Hours (Bloom)
  2. TV on the Radio – Modern Romance (New Health Rock EP)
  3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Heads Will Roll (It’s Blitz!)
  4. Metric – Youth Without Youth (Synthetica)
  5. Sparklehorse – Some Sweet Day (Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain)
  6. Joel Plaskett Emergency – Time Flies (Scrappy Happiness)
  7. Thao & Mirah – Rubies and Rocks (Thao & Mirah)
  8. Jill Barber – Oh My My (Chances)
  9. Feist – The Bad In Each Other (Metals)
  10. wintersleep – In Came the Flood (Hello Hum)
  11. The New Pornographers – Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk (Together)
  12. Spoon – Nobody Gets Me But You (Transference)
  13. Andrew Bird – Desperation Breeds… (Break It Yourself)
  14. The Elected – Greetings in Braille (Me First)
  15. Ohbijou – The Dreaming (Metal Meets)
  16. Mercury Rev – Spiders and Flies (All Is Dream)
  17. Blitzen Trapper – Summer Town (Wild Mountain Nation)
  18. Laura Veirs – Make Something Good (July Flame)
  19. Cat Power – Metal Heart (Jukebox)
  20. Great Lake Swimmers – I am Part of a Large Family (Ongiara)
  21. Billy Bragg – 13 Hesitating Beauty.mp3 (And Wilco Mermaid Avenue 1998)
  22. The Fiery Furnaces – Even In The Rain (I’m Going Away)
  23. Graham Wright – Medicine Hat (The Lakes Of Alberta)
  24. Stereolab – So Is Cardboard Clouds (Not Music)
  25. Songs: Ohia – Almost Was Good Enough (Magnolia Electric Co.)
  26. Cuff The Duke – Smothered In Hugs (Guided By Voices Cover) (In Our Time EP)
  27. Le Tigre – On The Verge (This Island)
  28. Land Of Talk – Give Me Back My Heart Attack (Some Are Lakes)
  29. Controller.Controller – Watch (History)
  30. Sleater-Kinney – Oh! (One Beat)
  31. The Books – All You Need Is A Wall (The Way Out)
  32. the owls – air (Our Hopes and Dreams)
  33. Hefner – Eloping (Breaking God’s Heart)
  34. Jason Collett – Lake Superior (Rat A Tat Tat)
  35. M.I.A. – Paper Planes (Kala)
  36. Tune-Yards – You Yes You (W H O K I L L)
  37. Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins – Rise Up With Fists!!! (Rabbit Fur Coat)
  38. The Mountain Goats – 1 John 4:16 (The Life Of The World To Come)
  39. Sarah Harmer – Our Dark Clouds (Bonus Track) (Oh Little Fire)
  40. Camera Obscura – Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken (Let’s Get Out Of This Country)
  41. Parlour Steps – The Garden (Ambiguoso)
  42. Beirut – Postcards From italy (Gulag Orkestar)
  43. Electrelane – Going Out Again (The Power Out)
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episode #271 – Mike’s undoing

This was meant to be your Victoria Day long weekend playlist, but in true V-day style, the long-weekend festivities spilled out from their three-day container and into real life. We did, however, hear the new Japandroids track a billion times, and we love it (so press play and hear it)!

But fear not, this week’s show is a two-hour, multi-purpose extravaganza billed as the last one programmed just by Mike before we bow out for the summer, and as playlist to it. Hopefully this 29 song show (chock-full of new & timeless Canadian indie tracks) will tide you over until our next and final show, on June 6th, programmed by yours truly.

Check out tracks off new albums by PS I Love You, Best Coast, Patrick Watson, Great Lake Swimmers, & Zeus, and sit back and nod along to Mike’s hometown faves Manitoba, Junior Boys & Luke Doucet. Plus he couldn’t avoid a trip down memory lane with more than a few stops in the 90s.

So join us again in a couple of weeks when we’ll sign off with a three-hour show, giving you five final hours to get you through the long, hot summer!

  1. Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built (Celebration Rock)
  2. Rush – The Spirit Of Radio (Permanent Waves)
  3. Manitoba – Bijoux (Up In Flames)
  4. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Don’t Haunt This Place (Hometowns)
  5. Zeus – Are You Gonna’ Waste My Time? (Busting Visions)
  6. Luke Doucet and the White Falcon – Love and a Steady Hand (Steel City Trawler)
  7. PS I Love You – Toronto (Death Dreams)
  8. Wolf Parade – Call It A Ritual (At Mount Zoomer)
  9. Crystal Castles – Not In Love (Feat. Robert Smith) (single)
  10. Ladytron – High Rise (Witching Hour)
  11. Curve – Faît Accompli (Pubic Fruit)
  12. Sloan – She Says What She Means (Navy Blues)
  13. Great Lake Swimmers – I Will Never See The Sun (TTC Version) (New Wild Everywhere)
  14. Elliott BROOD – West End Sky (Days Into Years)
  15. Iron & Wine – Belated Promise Ring (Around The Well)
  16. Mogwai – 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong (Rock Action)
  17. The National – Squalor Victoria (Boxer)
  18. Rock Plaza Central – Anthem For The Already Defeated (Are We Not Horses)
  19. Plants and Animals – Why & Why (The End of That)
  20. Best Coast – Let’s Go Home (The Only Place)
  21. Elliott Smith – Independence Day (XO)
  22. PJ Harvey – C’mon Billy (To Bring You My Love)
  23. The Tragically Hip – So Hard Done By (Day For Night)
  24. Radiohead – No Surprises (OK Computer)
  25. Patrick Watson – Into Giants (Adventures In Your Own Backyard)
  26. Belle & Sebastian – Is It Wicked Not To Care? (The Boy With The Arab Strap)
  27. Laura Veirs – Snow Camping (Carbon Glacier)
  28. Junior Boys – Teach Me How to Fight (Last Exit)
  29. Jenn Grant – Stars To Waves (Honeymoon Punch)
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episode #269

This week is a quick look back at some of the new music from 2012 that has been lingering on our iPods and ringing in our ears an awful lot.  As you might have guessed from their regular appearances on the show, we can’t stop listening to Chairlift, Sleigh Bells and Shearwater, three American bands that put out very, very listenable discs earlier this year.

From closer to home, there’s Kathleen Edwards’ Voyageur, and Toronto’s Bahamas to keep us occupied. We also hear a track from Winnipeg’s Royal Canoe, via a recommendation from Music Between Friends / Indilicious on 93.3 CFMU. Those myboytheriotgirl fans looking to find other sources of indie-pop after we close up shop in June should look to Katie and Sasha for all their music needs.

We also hear some songs off of albums released late last year that are still growing on us, like those from Wilco and Underworld (going strong since before we were born!). And of course, sprinkled throughout are some classic tracks from local-boy Caribou, and a fave of Megan’s by Modest Mouse.

We’re off next week, but will be back in time for Mike’s sole-sourced birthday show. Just a few episodes left, so make your requests while you can, and thanks for listening!

  1. Shearwater – You As You Were (Animal Joy)
  2. Chairlift – Wrong Opinion (Something)
  3. Underworld – Always Loved A Film (Barking)
  4. Caribou – The Barn (Marinoaudio)
  5. Royal Canoe – Hold on to the Metal (Extended Play)
  6. Field Music – Just Like Everyone Else (Plumb)
  7. Andrew Bird – Near Death Experience Experience (Break It Yourself)
  8. Kathleen Edwards – Going to Hell (Voyageur)
  9. Bahamas – Where You Go (Barchords)
  10. Sleigh Bells – Demons (Reign Of Terror)
  11. Grandaddy – Hewlett’s Daughter (The Sophtware Slump)
  12. Wilco – I Might (The Whole Love)
  13. Lykke Li – Unrequited Love (Wounded Rhymes)
  14. Modest Mouse – Bukowski (Good News For People Who Love Bad News)
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episode #268 – Adventures In Your Own Backyard

The impending summer hiatus of myboytheriotgirl has made a priority out of stuffing as much music as we can into shows, so behold, 57+ minutes of music glory for your ears’ pleasure.

Starting off with the lead track off of Atlas Sound’s 2011 disc Parallax, we then get to a track from the highly anticipated album from secretive Canadian duo Purity Ring. The Halifax/Montreal band will be releasing Shrines on July 24th, and we can’t wait for it!

And speaking of acts out of Montreal with albums you can’t wait for: Polaris winner Patrick Watson and band have just released their latest (yesterday). Having listened to it a few dozen times on the CBC Music website, we can’t get enough of this delicately crafted pop, so we end the show with the first three tracks off the disc.

Before that, though, we get to a couple of dedications (New Order to Brendan,  and Land of Talk to Regan), some Screaming Females followed by a female screaming, and classics by the Fiery Furnaces, Peter Bjorn & John, and The Besnard Lakes (more Montreal!)

Also, since this video is just so darrrrling, you should take five minutes and watch it to behold the talent that is Patrick Watson & co.

  1. Atlas Sound – The Shakes (Parallax)
  2. Purity Ring – Obedear (Shrines)
  3. New Order – Ceremony (Substance)
  4. The Fiery Furnaces – Bird Brain (Blueberry Boat)
  5. Blitzen Trapper – Below the Hurricane (Destroyer of the Void)
  6. Blur – Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club (Think Tank)
  7. The Drums – I Don’t Know How To Love (Portamento)
  8. Screaming Females – Expire (Ugly)
  9. Noisettes – Bridge To Canada (What’s The Time Mr. Wolf? (Retail))
  10. The Besnard Lakes – Devastation (The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse)
  11. Land of Talk – Blangee Blee (Cloak and Cipher)
  12. Peter Bjorn And John – Start To Melt (Writer’s Block)
  13. Patrick Watson – Lighthouse (Adventures In Your Own Backyard)
  14. Patrick Watson – Blackwind (Adventures In Your Own Backyard)
  15. Patrick Watson – Step Out for a While (Adventures In Your Own Backyard)
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