May 02, 2005

Bearsuit "Cat Spectacular"

British sextet Bearsuit’s debut album Cat Spectacular! was released in America this past March, nine months after it was issued in their home country. Such a time lag reminds me of the mid-‘90s, when closet Anglophiles like myself who didn’t have the money to shell out $30 for imports had to wait for brave domestic labels to license albums that a couple thousand Yanks AT MOST would buy. Who here remembers the Boo Radleys? Case closed. Anyway, nowadays it usually doesn’t take as long for British music to permeate our shores, especially if the Brits in question are aligned with the dance-rock/art-punk movement that’s been sweeping the underground over the last couple of years (Bloc Party, Futureheads, Franz Ferdinand, et cetera). Bearsuit has nothing to do with that scene, though. If anything, they are what Belle and Sebastian would sound like if you hopped them up on yellow-jackets, handed them some distortion pedals and locked them in a recording studio for 24 hours.

This album begins in a deceptively grandiose manner with “Welcome Bearsuit Spacehotel,” a booming two-chord jam saturated with flutes and bells that could’ve easily come off of a Spiritualized album. From that point onward, the band gets down to the business of making short, speedy and densely layered pop songs that sound as if they’re held together by sheer centrifugal force. Second track “Cookie Oh Jesus” begins with what is probably the album’s most prescient lyric: “What the hell do those flashing red lights mean?” The music that follows if nothing if not bright and bewildered. Guys and gals take turns delivering lyrics and layering harmonies on top of each other, barely raising their voices above a timid croon. Trumpets, flutes, keyboards, sleigh bells and drum machines and guitars collide with each other, until it all sounds like a middle school band rehearsal in which the sheet music is turned upside down. Last but not least, the drummer plays way faster than necessary, as if the kit will fall apart if he doesn’t hit every piece of it at once. The song is a mess, but it’s so catchy that listeners who are already well-versed in shambling indie-pop won’t mind at all.

A good amount of songs on Cat Spectacular! abruptly interrupt themselves as soon as they begin to build momentum. Rock anthem “Rodent Disco” has a false ending, which is then followed by a brief reprise played completely on dinky synthesizers. “Cherryade” is a breezy, jangling piece of tropicalia until the last 30 seconds, during which the band launches into a series of room-clearing blast beats. Other songs simply stop when their main ideas have exhausted themselves. “I Feel the Heat of the Light from Heaven” and “Diagonal Girl” only need one or two verses to get stuck in your head before simply ending, a concision that very few bands since Guided by Voices have perfected. Some songs adhere to strict verse/chorus demarcations, but in those cases, the conventional song structures end up underscoring the quirkiness of Bearsuit’s lyrics. The words to “Itsuko Got Married” are strings of gossip involving people who may or may not be close to the band (“So did you see that new band that she's in?/I swear to God, like nothing that you've heard”), and album closer “On Your Special Day” seems to be about…um, hiding from robots that want to kill you.

In short, Cat Spectacular is an invigorating half-hour of buzzing baroque pop from a group of cute Brits who are much better songwriters than they are musicians. This album seems to pose the question “Who needs rehearsals when you’ve got tunes and ideas?,” and like the music of bands from the Raincoats to Boyracer to the Swirlies, it forces me to do little more than shrug my shoulders and say, “Yep, you’re right.”

--Sean Padilla

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