The long-running Scandinavian indie poppers Cats on Fire took their time developing their sound over the course of a handful of sporadically released singles and albums in their first decade of existence. All Blackshirts to Me is the band's third proper album, following a singles collection and 2009's Smiths-seeped Our Temperance Movement. The album's meticulous arrangements and sublime production speak to the band's fastidious attention to detail, and over the course of the 12 songs, Cats on Fire sculpt a crystal-clear, acoustic-leaning indie pop sound that borrows heavy from classic indie heroes but filters them through the band's collective personality. Singer and principal songwriter Mattias Björkas' vocals take on the same removed affectation as those of Adam Olenius, lead singer for the band's Swedish contemporaries Shout Out Louds. Both singers' emulations of '80s indie goth icons like Morrissey and the Cure's Robert Smith aim for the essence of those influences, but their own unique perspectives and songwriting quirks factor in, making the end result something further removed than simple mimicry. A similar phenomena happens in a larger sense with Cats on Fire as a whole. They have always worn their influences pretty heavy on their sleeve, be it the dour college rock of the Smiths, Felt, and Orange Juice, the breezy wistfulness of the Go-Betweens, or even touches of Elvis Costello's acidic power pop. Tracks like "It's Clear Your Former Lover" and "A Few Empty Waves" brim with the same confessional feel of vintage Robyn Hitchcock or Verlaines tracks, but somewhere between Ville Hopponen's burning guitar tones and Björkas' odd lyrics about travel, drinking, and smashing guitars, the songs take on a shape all their own. "After the Fact" is much the same, starting with a choppy pop beat but quickly adding delayed mandolin strums, floating vocals, and an oddly disjointed bridge, taking the song out of Smiths territory into uncharted waters. All Blackshirts to Me transcends its influences through interesting production and writing choices like these. In the end, the album feels like a very personal and slightly awkward diary entry set to music, mirroring some favorite bands but still focused on saying something new.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas