Saturday, December 1, 2012

Phenomenal Cat - Yours Sincerely.

Phenomenal Cat release their 11th single of the year and whilst I could rave on about this band for a lifetime, like I have all year, I am handing this one over to my lovely guest contributor "Interplanet Janet."

Sax Please. We’re British.
How Phenomenal Cat Are Reworking the Brit Sound

When I was nineteen and the irresistable lure of London reeled me in, I met a member of a soon-to-be successful Britpop band, and discovered to my delight that he was my neighbour. We bonded in our mutual insomnia and spent many a late and early morning hour listening to his records and discussing all things music-related.  One night, as we sat on his floor and drank tea, the conversation led him to accuse me of being an Anglophile.  I was nineteen, from The Midwest in America, and in all honesty— pretty thick. I was taken aback. What did he just call me? Confused, and suspecting that I just had a very British insult hurled at me, he went on to clarify that this simply meant a love of all things English. Looking back, he was most definitely right in his assessment, at least when it came to music. Now, many years later, and me being hopefully a bit less thick, I still wear that label with pride, but also because I don’t know the proper term for lover of all things British. Never mind. The point is, from those educational wee hours to this very day, I am always  astounded by the quality music that comes out of the UK.
So what’s the scene like now? If your looking for something a bit more interesting and with a bit more depth than what’s in the charts, there’s no better place to start than with Phenomenal Cat, an eclectic band from Kent who are carrying on the tradition of flying the Union Jack high, both in imagery and in sound. At times, one could almost mistake them for an exuberant 90s Britpop band, if it weren’t for some key differences that make them so very now (for example, their genre-hopping instrumentation). Postcards From The British Empire is an ambitious twelve-month project wherein the band write, record and release one song for each month of 2012. Aside from the songs themselves, I think it’s worth noting that the imagery on each single’s cover art is fabulously retro, wonderfully nostalgic and very creative. 

There’s a problem though. Whenever I see the word British Empire, the Critical Studies scholar in me eventually tries to force her way into my consciousness. What does it mean to be British? What about the contentious post-colonial legacy? I’ll stop myself here, for the sake of not boring you into a coma but also because that’s political. When used in the context of popular music, Britishness always strikes me as an immensely positive thing. A proud, yet irresistable mix of tongue-in-cheek humour and likeable self-awareness attached to a cultural identity that Brits and music lovers across the globe just get. The musical genealogy of Britain is too vast to even attempt to sum up in a few words, besides, you already know it. Instead, like Phenomenal Cat, I’ll give a nod to bands like the Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, but also Blur, Pulp and many other 90s Britpop bands who lamented aspects of modern Britain but who also carried a sense of pride along with them and, to boot, had the pluck to challenge America’s sense of entitlement in the international music scene. 

Yours Sincerely is Phenomenal Cat’s track for November and it is a rolicking romp of brass and rocking guitar licks, sung with an accent guaranteed to charm the pants of impressionable Americans. Having now listened to  all the eleven singles that have been released to date, one can see musical patterns and lyrical themes merge into what one might think of as the band’s distinct sound. It’s a delicate operation though. Just when you think they may be in danger of becoming a caricature of a Brit band or a pastiche of all the Brit bands that have ever been, they do one of two things:  they create a bridge and continue to play a very different song. The three-songs-for-the-price-of-one approach to songwriting that Paul McCartney does so well springs to mind here. I always loved that about Macca and it works with Phenomenal Cat as well. Oh, and if I forgot to mention it before, you should know that this band can rock when they want to. The other novel thing they do in some of their songs is adopt a piece of Americana to balance things out a bit. If you listen closely to all the tracks, you should be able to spot a jangly Byrds riff, what I think is a slide guitar and, I kid you not, at least one cracking sax solo. Yep, that’s right. I know the saxophone is a mainstay in some British stalwarts like The Specials, Madness and other funky bands like Ian Dury and The Blockheads, but they fall into what I would consider a different subgenre. It’s remarkable how Phenomenal Cat manage to deftly and brilliantly incorporate so many different features of British music to date, across the spectrum and throughout time.  

 On top of that, they throw a little Americana into the mix that, quite frankly, has left me thinking if I hadn’t heard it for myself I’d say it couldn’t be done well. This is all while still trying to get the absolutely brilliant and ultra-catchy single from March, also titled Postcards From The British Empire, out my head.  Ah, but there’s plenty of room in there.

Interplanet Janet

Download the single for a "Name Your Price" fee or Free, but definately download this single, Ray Davies would have liked to have penned this one!  Get it here: Bandcamp

The band are producing a bespoke box set of the years singles ready for Christmas, show someone you really love them, with that one, diamonds are forever, but music is for longer! All details on the Bandcamp page.

Like, love, befriend, contact, follow Phenomenal Cat here: Facebook

Many thanks to Interplanet Janet, again, for her contribution to the blog.

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