Monday, March 26, 2007

SJ Esau - Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse

Sadly, I’d never had a chance to learn about Sam Wisternoff’s musical history until the release of Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse; the Bristol native’s work in True Funk Posse and The Pudding had somehow brushed past me, as had his 2005 remix album, Stop Touching My Cat. What I’ve learned in the catch-up process is that Wisternoff apparently retired from rapping at 12 years of age, already has a new album aimed at 2008, possesses very nice manners and answers e-mails in a timely fashion, and loves cats. Jesus, does he love cats.

As SJ Esau, Wisternoff’s got an odd highlight in “Cat Track (He Has No Balls),” the first full track on his Anticon debut. Music mimics words while the cat’s breathing and dreaming lead a lonely guitar. A minute in, that lurking guitar rises into a violent rush of violin and gets all Celtic on your ass, suddenly making the second verse, though just as mellow as the first, so much darker – not sure how they do things in Bristol, but here in California, “The cat, fully fulfilled, he’s got no balls” shouldn’t sound so grim and ominous. It’s best to say that there’s intentional humor here, as reading lyrics and following along with the music could lead to all sorts of batty ideas in this particular case. He inadvertently says “her whisker” in place of “the whisker.” Could there be a special girl kitty in Wisternoff’s life, or does he see the feline as an effeminate creature? A day could be spent on this song, but such an act would give meaning to the trivial. What’s not to be overlooked, though, is the creative musicianship.

“Geography” has got a “munch, munch, munch” introduction and then a fabulous buildup in its second half, the sort of drumming that occurs when hip hop’s performed with a live band and there’s a heavy thrash of cymbals, snares and toms in unison, only here it’s holding up a thick supply of brass, one family competing with the other. The album’s been getting Pavement comparisons, and while not quite in that territory, a couple of middle tracks have that generic late 1990s minimalism, though the record is too distinctly British to fall into any generic category (British music, especially pop, still seems to convey a distinct dreariness and, in turn, an accidental sense of national pride – this overturns a bit of the American “indie rock” quality of the record).

This is an album that Beirut, Travis or earlier VAST fans will likely love, and there’s so much buildup, so many layers, so many personalities filling the space below a trace of ambiguous humor. Sure, there are also the few untitled interludes wasting track space and preventing this record from being carelessly thrown on a 10”, and there’s the monotonous rhythm of “I Got a Bad,” less than two minutes and more an experiment with a hook that couldn’t be appropriately placed elsewhere. And yes, “Halfway up the Pathway,” which sounds as to be recorded over the telephone and has more in common with Jeffrey Lewis’ storytelling than the grey rain clouds that drift by on the concluding “Lazy Eye.” But aside from these minor missteps, there’s a small collection that simultaneously soothes and excites, churned out by an Englishman with a fascination for words and cats. He’s eager not to please but to fill the gaps between genres that more precise indie rockers are a little nervous to delve into, and while Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse likely won’t win over any new fans, it’s got a few goodies that loyal Anticon (or Wisternoff) fans should see fit for enjoyment.

SJ Esau - Cat Track (He Has No Balls) (from Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse)
SJ Esau - Wears the Control (from Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse)
SJ Esau and Why? - Note (from Stop Touching My Cat)

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