Derivativeness is a pejorative in most music critique, music where you can clearly hear the sources must clearly not be 'challenging' and must be confronted for it. I think that's utter bullshit. I don't care if what I'm hearing is totally new in those terms - the newness of music comes from the people involved and how they put together what's fed them up to the point of their own decision to express themselves. All music is derivative - it's whether people are able to surpass their sources and implant themselves in the mix. So though I hear all kinds of familiar pleasures in Cats Of Transnistria's music, the haunted vocal plangency of Tarnation, the blitzed-and-blissful feedback of MBV and Windy & Carl, the spectral suggestiveness and radiance of Young Marble Giants, the bleak doom of Nico, it doesn't matter in terms of my enjoyment - this self-nailed 'slow and deep duo from Helsinki' have created two records in the past two years that I absolutely love and that express their own beautifully melodic, abstract sensibilities.
Last year's Away EP was the first transmission I heard from them. Couldn't quite believe I was falling in love with ANOTHER Finnish band on Soliti Records with 'Cats' in their name (you should know by now how much I love Cats On Fire) but the music was utterly spellbinding. You know I have problems with guitar music that's not metal. I kind of want anything that isn't utterly monstrously heavy and doom-laden to have an interesting urge behind it, to have something in its attitude and desires that saves it from indie-rock's typical bumptious pushiness, a feel that justifies it. COT seem to want to disappear, wink out of existence with a beautiful Cheshire half-smile. The songs on Away make such a trick real, imprint themselves on your consciousness and memory thanks to the gorgeous arrangements, writing and melodies, but still seem to leave barely a footprint that you can trace, fill every possible pressure-point with snowflakes and mist. Its music that swims in, engulfs you, then departs and leaves you puckered to recover the spell that's just been enacted on you - music so gaseous, so evanescent your hands can't reach it, can only be flailing and dispersing the magic until your fingers find the rewind button. 'Violet' picks out a beautifully unsettling melody over harmonium and building, dazzling feedback a la Desertshore-era Nico, the lyrics hinting at a dissatisfaction that pulls at the cells, that tumbles you over until your whole life becomes a long dream of not being in your body, not being in the space and place you take up, music clearly massively in need of oblivion or escape, but also massively unable to enact those dreams for its protaganists. It's also raw, a little imperfect, brilliantly so - on 'San Fransisco' the fuzz and surge gets as fast as the duo get which isn't very but seems to have been recorded with no overdubs bar the vocals (with two of them, obviously there are overdubs but miraculously it all sounds simultaneous, like the room they were in and the instruments started humming along) - the vocals coming through like the Shangri Las are in the booth and Shadow Morton's on a long dark night of the soul. 'Good Night' really nails for me that Tarnation memory, the vocals perfectly pitched in a deep blue well, the guitars skyhooking themselves up and over a cliff before 'The Departure' sees things out with the first sign of drums on the whole record, the wurlitzer dead dead reminiscent of YMG/Pram, the fuzziness of the whole thing like the purple patches in your vision on a hungover morning, the vocals again twinned with a proximal impossibility of disentanglement. S'a Nordic thing I reckon, that close-voiced avoidance of traditional harmonising to create something altogether ghostlier and spookier and more ravishing. Less a high-five closer than a hand from the grave, luring you under to the bliss of being buried. Away is a stunning record.
Hyped by my addiction to Away (I kept sipping at it, like a cuppa-morphine) was delighted to find the Cats' bringing out a full-length LP this year. Initially, because by now I was familiar with the duo's sound, Divine was less of a surprise, almost less of a delight, but the longer I've lived with it the more I've realised what a necessary development it is from Away and how it will sustain and engross me until the next transmission. It's a wider, deeper record - with more space in it, a record that involves the listener even more, your mind filling in the gaps left, populating the spaces in the lines with your own imagery, your own falling clouds and rolling reverse waves. 'Let It Happen This Way' is surely a shoreline moment, a stroll into the depths, a farewell to the world, a summoning of the end but one still tinged with fear. An indescribable song. 'Feel The Divine' is almost structurally conventional, a verse, and a chorus, but the verse's hopeful cadence is so comprehensively extinguished by the bleak words and the chorus' agonised spiral into sheer noise you're again minded to see the whole song as a deeply felt love-letter to death. 'Seperation' and 'Trust' are sparse, the vocals again dreamlike and hallucinatory, music whose reverb and echo is as important as its first touch, a first touch that never feels macho or forceful, only obscured, indeterminate. Like most Cats Of Transnistria songs it leaves you adrift, floating off to regions Antarctic, trying to magic itself off the edge of the world. The ten-minute 'Displacement' recalls Labradford, or Come's most spectral moments without the band-surge ever coming, and here the ocean can actually be heard to the point where even listening feels almost dangerous, like you're too far from the beach and the big drop-off is about to pull you down. The closer 'Thunder Comes' is perhaps Cats Of Transnistria's most gorgeously hung-together moment, the vicious feedback licks flaming through the pulse, finding them and you perhaps truly over on the other side of life, perhaps finally rewound/fast-forwarded into the freedom of total disappearance. Beautiful music for the doomed. That means all of you. Seek and get lost.