Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Cat Empire - s/t (2003)

If you were to look "Party Band" up in the dictionary you'd find a photo of The Cat Empire performing live.  These guys are the epitome of what a party band should be. 

Take a bit of ska, a pinch of funk, a few hints of funk, a cup of reggae, a teaspoon of rap, and a tablespoon or two of jazz toss it in the blender, set it to puree... and you'll get The Cat Empire.

The band is comprised of Felix Reibl (percussion & vocals), Harry James Angus (trumpet & vocals), Ollie McGill (keyboard & backing vocals), Will Hull-Brown (drums), & Jamshid "Jumps" Khadiwhala (decks & percussion).  The band is often backed by the brass duo, The Empire Horns (Kieran Conrau/trombone, Ross Irwin/trumpet flugelhorn & backing vocals, & Carlo Barbaro/tenor sax).

As a lover of horns, I'm especially pleased that The Cat Empire does not skimp on the horns when the songs warrant a good solid wall of brass but also know when to show restraint when the material doesn't warrant any brass. 

One might not expect such an eclectic mix of different styles would mix well, but The Cat Empire mixes various different genres with a deft skill that speaks volumes to their musical talent and overall creativity.

Their 2003 debut album starts out with a festive, catchy bang with How to Explain which remains a staple of their live shows to this day.  Days Like These is a catchy fun romp as well, although not quite as fun as How to Explain

The album picks up speed again with The Chariot with catchy, upbeat lyrics and an infectuous beat that is near impossible to avoid dancing to.  The band would re-visit this song with a slightly different arrangement on their 2nd album, Two Shoes, but this version has a catchier groove than the more recent updated 2005 arrangement.

The lyrics are at times at empowering and other times downright amusing:

And my knees were shaking
And my jaw was dropping
And my eyes were squinting
And my smile was growing
And my pants were bulging
And my hands were sweating
And my chest was beating
So I cry 'excuse me,
What is the secret to your song?'

Cause when you're walking along
When you're walking along:

Your legs are a melody my hands
Would like to play
And your hips are a note
That does take me away
And your face and your eyes and your hair
And your waist and your smile
Drive me to distraction - excerpt from The Rhythm
After The Rhythm the album downshifts and borrows more from the band's jazz influences.  The material is no less enjoyable and it puts on display the full breadth of their musical talents.

While The Cat Empire has released several more exceptional albums, and their 2005 follow-up Two Shoes is easily superior to this debut.  The album is the best place to start as it whets the appetite for the even better music that was yet to come.

Related media & Links
How to Explain video

The Rhythm video

The Chariot video

Days Like These video

Hello video

The Cat Empire (official website)
The Cat Empire (wikipedia)
The Cat Empire (CD) (wikipedia)
Felix Reibl (wikipedia)
Harry James Angus (wikipedia)
Ollie McGill (wikipedia)

1 comment:

Charlie said...

Darrin: Great review! Nice to see how your exposure to Two Shoes prompted you to dig deeper. I haven't heard the debut yet but based on Two Shoes, my #4 CD of the last decade, and your review here I know it must be a wonderful disc. Thanks for posting this.

They added a musician for Two Shoes, Ryan Munro on double bass, bass guitar, backing vocals.

I saw these guys live 3 summers ago and they were fantastic. That day it was just the sextet, The Empire Horns were not there, but Harry still worked a lot of trumpet into the set. The band was in full party mode and lead singer Felix had the ladies swooning.

Cat Empire sounds like no one on the radio these days so I don't know popular they will become but those with open minds will love this truly offbeat but extremely talented band.