Cat Power used to be one of those bands that I lumped in with “all the rest of the indie crap that’s not drone.” How wrong I was. The only reason I can figure for my total ignorance, was that Chan Marshall — who is Cat Power plus whoever she gets to play on the album — gets lumped by many other people into categories that feature bands I have heard, and do indeed, not like.
I wish the folks out there wouldn’t have compared her positively or negatively to people like Smog, Palace, or any of this new-songwriter biz. They could have done her a much better service (and led me to hearing a great talent) by just calling it something like “a indescribable phenomenon.”
Oh wait, critics already do say stuff like that with bands that don’t deserve it. When I think of all the things I like about Moon Pix (Chan’s voice, Jim White’s understated drumming, the barely-there guitar of Marshall and Mick Turner), I realize its all the more wonderful because, like the critics, there are SCADS of artists out there already trying to do this. And most, fail miserably.
I say most, because really, outside of Beck, when are you going to hear some overly precious S/S type folkie back his or her ditties with a Paul Revere style backbeat, like on “American Flag”? Who else is going to quote Amazing Grace in a song “Metal Heart” (besides Jeff Buckley) and not make me cringe? Who’s going to write the most mysterious shuffling jingle to compete with “Cross Bones Style”? No one, neither Jeff, nor Beck, (nor Jeff Beck either) and for DAMNED sure none of the cute girlies-with-a-geetar that Rolling Stone and Spin throw at us every minute. Out of all those female types with a understated backing, I have a vague memory of something once promising in Sarah McLaughlin’s piano. “The Colors and the Kids” brings it back, and washes it clean of any scary nightmares of Lilith Fest.
A side note: Chan hasn’t always dressed up her songs with Messrs. Turner and White. She used to employ Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Tim Foljahn of Two Dollar Guitar. The change in bringing on 2/3’s of Australia’s Dirty Three, was pure genius. If you like what you hear here, and want more of it, but in a wordless manner, I recommend them heartily as well.
Finally, it is to the credit of this disk that I am not the only snobbish type to break ranks with psych and drone to praise it. Moon Pix was voted one of the 10 best albums of 1998 on the usually ultra-obscure preferring Drone-On electronic mailing list. SO. I’m not the only one who had to eat crow.
Written by Pearson Greer.