Tiger, My Friend

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Much like fellow Londoners Tunng and Adem, Psapp (the cat-obsessed duo of Carim Clasmann and Galia Durant) combine the idyllic laptop IDM of Four Tet and isan (whose Robin Saville released this album in the U.K. on his Arable label) with gentle bossa nova and folk-inflected songwriting, infused with their endearingly lighthearted personal sensibility. Tiger, My Friend, their debut full-length, impresses first with its whimsy: it's rife with the sounds of toy instruments (xylophones, pan flutes, accordions, music boxes), toy-like noisemakers (typewriters, door hinges, alarm clocks), and straight-up toys. Actually, who knows where they got all these squeaks and blips and whirrs and burbles and scrapes; the credits list a cat and a beer can, while the album artwork depicts mysterious keyboard-like devices with labels including "strum press wigglers," "surprise noise buttons," and "spectral weasel." For all their imaginatively goofy sound-harvesting though, Psapp's substance lies in their sophisticated and strangely sober songs, which are generally built on fairly traditional foundations -- softly plucked acoustic guitars, parlor-room pianos, stately string arrangements -- with some additional electronic tweaking and trickery, and always buoyed by Durant's honeyed, understated vocals. The result is an appealing and somewhat unique balancing act; the emotional resonance of the songwriting preventing the record from feeling trite or overly gimmicky while the persistent childlike playfulness leavens some potentially too-solemn songs. Indeed, the lyrics sometimes get surprisingly dour -- "Leaving in Coffins" meditates on mortality and aging, while other songs ("King Kong," the spare "Counter," even the lovely, resignedly affirmative "Curuncula") reflect the push and pull of a fraught relationship (which it's difficult to imagine could too closely resemble Clasmann and Durant's own). On the other hand, there's "About Fun," whose curious cat-like lyrics ("I want a bowl of cold milk," "let's have a bite of raw meat") fit nicely into its quirky-jerky Latin-tinged groove -- it's not just about fun, it is, and so, resoundingly, lyrical content notwithstanding, is Tiger, My Friend.

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