De Novo Dahl
Cats & Kittens
Theory 8
2005
B+



double albums possess a certain mystique that’s usually undercut by the actual, as opposed to imagined, results. The first thing that springs to mind when I consider debut albums that take up two discs is Manic Street Preachers’ Generation Terrorists, which began their long career of (with the exception of The Holy Bible) being slightly underwhelming. Cats & Kittens manages to sidestep most of the problems that Generation Terrorists and its ilk usually possess, and they do so in a fashion that suggests that ambitious bands might want to consider taking a page from Shania Twain’s book.

Twain’s Up!, whatever its other virtues and flaws, at least took some chances with format. It was released as a two-disc album with the same songs on each CD. One disc had “pop” mixes, while the other had either “country” or “world” versions depending on what country it was bought in. This would be something of a bad deal for the consumer except it was sold at single-disc price, and if more informed sources than your author tell me that the differences are often minimal, the idea behind the album is still an intriguing one. De Novo Dahl carry it to a more logical conclusion by offering both a debut album of cheeky, hooky indie pop equally influenced by Sloan and the Super Furry Animals (Cats) and a debut album of cheeky, mostly-hooky electronic pop of various stripes that’s equally influenced by Pink Grease and, err, the Super Furry Animals. The result lies somewhere between a remix disc and a director’s cut, but you never quite wish for either less material or less redundancy, as you might expect to.

I’m not the first writer to compare De Novo Dahl to the Super Furries, but I think the reason is slightly more insidious than the critical community’s usual lack of imagination; in the musical world that De Novo Dahl finds themselves moving in, there have been few successful bands as willing to hop, skip and jump through different sets of conventions as SFA have been. De Novo Dahl haven’t had as much practice and so there aren’t any “Receptacle For The Respectable”s here that manage to go in radically different directions all in the same song, but DND are equally adept at running off wildly in all directions without losing their sense of pop joy. They’ve essentially made their Fuzzy Logic at the same time as their Radiator, and that suggests they’ve got some pretty impressive heights to hit in their career to come.

Cats alone would make for a pretty stirring debut; at sixteen tracks there are a few which come close to filler status but when it hits a good run, such as the one from “Be Your Man” to “Conquest At Midnight,” this Nashville sextet lives up to any hyperbole that’s likely to be thrown at them, and although they stick to a mostly consistent sound they still manage an impressive range: “Jeffrey” (and “Dinosaurs!”, its Kittens equivalent) sounds like the happiest song Wayne Coyne left off of The Soft Bulletin, but a few songs later “Ryan Patrick Huseman Darrow” glances towards Josh Homme instead.

What Kittens gains in bad title puns, dancefloor nous, interesting experiments and range it naturally loses in consistency; the chronology of these songs, the order of the discs, and higher number of misses all indicate that Kittens is the secondary half of the project, which is in some ways unfortunate. When “Conquest At Midnight,” a sweet ode to sleeping around, can be turned into the bouncy, twangy “Little Conquest On The Prairie” without any loss of affection towards either version, you know this band is special. Some of the risks they take pay off tenfold; “End Of Time,” on Cats, is already an affecting slowdance, but when converted to echoed mass vocals and cavernous thump in its “Jose, You Love Me!?” incarnation it’s even better.

Although some of the results, good and bad, do feel like after-the-fact remixes, the very best tracks take on completely new life. Kittens kicks off with “Magic”, which started life as one of the few missteps on Cats (“Cowboy And The Frenchman”) and is completely reconfigured into a somehow-sexy late-70s dancefloor throwback.

Naturally with such depths of material present, the result comes off as a bit of a mixed bag, despite the generally high quality. Invariably there will be some tracks you’ll prefer in one version or the other, but the pleasant surprise is the number of songs (like “New Belief”/”Turtle Italian”) where both seem essential. Sure, this kind of format isn’t likely to become standard, and you wouldn’t want it to, but on the evidence of Cats & Kittens you might wish that De Novo Dahl attempt something just as sprawling next time out.


Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2005-07-11
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