Cat Power


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Six years between albums would be a lifetime for many artists, but Cat Power's Chan Marshall managed to pack a couple of lifetimes' worth of experiences between The Greatest and Sun. A happy relationship, health issues, and writer's block were among the many things that kept her away from music during that time, and with a life that full, it's no wonder that this album, Marshall's ninth set of original songs, is so different than the one that came before it. Instead of working with veteran musicians, she wrote, recorded, and produced Sun on her own, added electronic instruments to her repertoire, and enlisted Cassius' Philippe Zdar to help with the mixing duties (which he did with a minimum of interference). While it's miles away from The Greatest's retro-soul, Sun isn't Cat Power-goes-electro, either; anyone fearing relentless house beats or an onslaught of cheesy synths should have their fears calmed by the beautiful opening track "Cherokee," where a few tasteful keyboards rev up the yearning chorus, and skittering beats fit right in with the guitar and piano. The song also introduces Sun's remarkably spare production aesthetic, which sounds all the more striking coming after The Greatest's lushness; even if this album is more consciously modern-sounding than its predecessor, it's also a lot less slick. Actually, the willingness and ability to mix, bend, and blend old and new sounds that Marshall shows here isn't such a far cry from the more sonically adventurous moments on Moon Pix and especially You Are Free; she's just expanding on that instinct and adding a more hopeful songwriting bent. What really matters, and what really shines on Sun, is Marshall's voice, which sounds so unabashedly human and lived-in that not even the Auto-Tune on songs such as "3,6,9" can tweak the grit out of it. These songs give Marshall some of the widest-ranging backdrops she's ever had for that voice, whether it's more overtly electronic tracks such as the hypnotic title cut and the ominous "Silent Machine," which suddenly glitches up like ripping the skin off an android, or the more familiar but still compelling territory of "Human Being"'s rolling blues or the delicate piano ballad "Manhattan," which sparkles like freshly fallen snow. Sun also boasts some of her happiest-sounding songs, in particular "Nothin' But Time," an 11-minute epic dedicated to her ex-boyfriend Giovanni Ribisi's teen daughter, to whom Marshall sings "You got nothin' but time/And it ain't got nothin' on you." It seems like the perfect way to end the album, until the actual closing track "Peace and Love," which is the closest Marshall has gotten to hip-hop, brings things to an end with unexpected but welcome humor. Sun lives up to its name, but its album cover is more revealing: like the rainbow crossing Marshall's face, these songs are the meeting point between a stormy past and optimism for the future.

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