Pros: Delicate and Haunting
Cons: Semi-Shallow Lyrics, Not Pop-Friendly
I am convinced the two loveliest things in this world are Australians and San Francisco's Darla Records label. The two find a nexus of spirit with the release of this 10" EP/CD by The Cats Miaow, The Long Goodbye.
The record is only 5 tracks long, making it a stretch of an investment for the $8 - $10 you'll need to spend. However, I'm convinced that these are among, if not definitively, some of The Cats Miaow's best songs. So if you're a fan, it's an essential pick up.
For those of you not familiar with The Cats Miaow, they are from Melbourne, Australia and were most prolific in the mid-90's. Some members have moved on since then to form Huon, a spectacularly good indie band from down under making music now, and readily available in CD format. The Cats Miaow however, never broke through over here, and as a result most of their releases in the US are limited to rereleases of past stuff in bits and pieces (hence the 5-song EP The Long Goodbye along with the 32-track CD Songs For Girls To Sing, a CD so expansive in its compendium of CM material that it almost qualifies as a box set).
Musically, The Cats Miaow are haunting, using simple acoustic guitar and some limited synth to create melodies and rhythms more than anything else. The lyrics, while sung excellently, are a bit shallow but that's fine. The Cats Miaow's music is all about impact, shoving you into the depths of melancholy as fast as possible before you even knew what hit you. The Long Goodbye, presumably at Darla's request, exemplifies this theme of theirs, without the occasional lightness you can find on some of their other tracks.
The EP's first track, "Phoebe," is so delicately dark that it's almost as if you you're being welcomed into a haunted house. The song's story of a lover having to watch the other slip away on a train is trite. But instead of focusing on the immediate pain of the moment, the song takes you a few days, or weeks into the future, once the intensity has worn off, and there's nothing left but emptiness and sadness. The flipside of trite is good territory for The Cats Miaow, and they make it work well. The instruments used on this track are either a dying organ or a tricked out electric guitar, I'm not sure which. It's the only sound used, but varied and fluxed enough so it feels like you're listening to a series of instruments, not just one. Intermittent train samples are included near the end. The organs sound a little like trains, adding to the atmosphere and metaphor.
The second track, "Faded," is also minimal, but carries a less somber mood. The music itself is carefully crafted organ notes laid over subtle acoustic guitar, with a hint of hope for once. But the octaves fall to floor every time it starts to pick up a happy tone, and your left with the emotional score to "Slingblade."
Atmosphere generation is The Cats Miaow's greatest strength, and it is fully displayed here on The Long Goodbye. The other tracks are similar in their light, down-tempo style, creating the ultimate rainy day music. The other tracks aren't as depressing although just as gray in style, dealing with love troubles or drug abuse. Hugging the bounds of darkness all the while, once the record is done the world looks a little different, at least through my eyes. The nuance that The Cats Miaow exploits is subtlety. The melodies are crafted and carefully put together, no power chords, no pop per sea, just a ghostly sensation bred of genius, not repetition of what others do. A good movie comparison would be The Sixth Sense. Even though the ending twist had been done before, the mood of the movie was entirely original - dark, slow, crafted sans tension.
The disadvantage here is the depth of lyricism. There isn't much. The images and story are effectively communicated, but the real meat is the soundscape that surrounds it. It almost loses the words. But the music itself is so inspiring that it shouldn't discourage you from purchasing it. Some people who've listened to The Long Goodbye also complain that it can get a little boring. True enough, there is no over-the-top production or pop sensibility here to reel you in; you have to appreciate the craftsmanship for what it is.
Fans of Huon should certainly pick it up if they don't have it already. Indie-poppers may find it a bit too slow but the delicacy is right up their alley. Certainly this EP is a good introduction into the South Pacific indie scene of the mid-90s, which gets very little appreciation here in the States. Australia and New Zealand were making (and continue to make) some great indie, even if it isn't poppy, and it's a shame we have to wait for rereleases.