Halftime Leisure

Critical Voices: Kitten, "Kitten"

June 27, 2014

With a stage presence like Dave Gahan and a distinctly New Wave sound, Kitten frontwoman Chloe Chaidez is back with a vengeance. This week, after almost five years of teasing with EPs, the Los Angeles-based band finally released their eponymous debut album. It’s been a long time coming, but there’s no question that this is the catalyst for Kitten’s upward trajectory.

You may have heard of them. Kitten opened for No Doubt in 2012, for Paramore and The Joy Formidable in early 2013 and for Charli XCX last fall. Ariel Pink popped up in a surprise music video for a non-album track, too:

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Kitten’s been putting out music for a while now. The band’s lineup has changed several times, but Chaidez, the voice and face of Kitten, has remained stylistically consistent. The band’s self-released freshman EP, “Sunday School,” dropped in late 2010 and melded Siouxsie and the Banshees with the empowerment of Patti Smith Group. After they signed to Elektra Records, “Sunday School” was followed up with 2012’s gravely and dreamlike EP “Cut It Out.” Last August, they released “Like A Stranger,” which I reviewed for “The Voice”. Like the rest of their work, “Like A Stranger” feels deeply New Wave-influenced, with hints of The Cure, Blondie, and The Psychedelic Furs.

Cue this new record. For old fans, it’s immediately familiar. Building upon an already well-established repertoire, half the record reads like a greatest hits album whereas the other half are from past EPs. The new songs bring an edgy pop element to the album, building the result into a less traditional amalgamation, something you could play at a dance party in Silverlake.

Kitten reclaimed its synthy, guitar-backed sound in “Like A Stranger,” and the carryover tracks (“Like A Stranger,” “I’ll Be Your Girl,” and “Doubt”) indicate an affection for that sound. The new tracks pull elements from Prince to New Order to even Missing Persons. Luckily for the uninitiated, “Kitten” doesn’t totally disregard its guitar backing—there’s a little bit of everything from the Kitten catalogue here.

The album opens with “Like A Stranger,” the lead single from Kitten’s most recent EP. It’s a jiving, synthlicious, and hip-twirling track. Since its original release in August 2013, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. Its mystery and bittersweet lyrics are totally intoxicating. I’ve been listening to this track almost incessantly since the EP dropped.

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Up next are two new tracks, “Sensible” and “Sex Drive.” The former track is immensely punk-y, with rapid guitars and shouted vocals reminiscent of the all-female band Bikini Kill. “Sex Drive,” as has been mentioned, is Prince reincarnate. It’s a blast, with high-treble vocals and a groovy beat. This track is Chaidez letting down her hair and indulging in the commercial appeal of easy beats.

They’re followed up by “I’ll Be Your Girl,” a transition track to the more melancholy and ethereal tracks in the album’s center. “I’ll Be Your Girl” exhibits the finality of a John Hughes movie soundtrack. It’ You can almost see John Cusack holding the stereo above his head, but it’s too raw and beautiful to be commercial.

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Especially after “I’ll Be Your Girl,” “Cathedal” would be superfluous if not for the fabulous saxophone interlude. If you’ve ever listened to M83, you basically have the gist. The saxophone saves it by giving it a distinguished air. “G#” is reminiscent of Sky Ferreira’s recent album. It’s a gentrification of the brash sounds of Ferreira’s. It’s also a carryover from “Cut It Out.” “Why I Wait” is an enigma. It’s very dreampop-y, but it also manages to be simultaneously soothing and erotic.

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With “Devotion,” Kitten’s back to the tried and true ‘80s pop rock sound they’ve perfected. I wager this is a track I’ll be blasting for the foreseeable future. As a sampler track, I’d go with this one. It’s just delicious.

“Doubt” represents a shift from the yearning of “I’ll Be Your Girl” and “Why I Wait” to sex appeal. As I wrote in my “Like A Stranger” review, “Doubt” “is a back-and-forth between Chaidez and her male counterpart, evocative in its lyrics as well as its rhythm.” It’s followed by “Cut It Out,” a wintery blend of gritty New Order-style guitars with delicate layered synths.

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“Kill The Lights” is a total re-recording of the original off of 2012’s “Sunday School.” In comparison to the original, this feels inauthentic and overproduced, as if Elektra Records felt that they couldn’t just let a good thing go. It’s worth nothing that the original recording was done whilst Kitten was unsigned, so the track was much more stripped down. Frankly, it was better that way. The old one is cleaner, more pure, and authentic.

The album closes with what feels like an afterthought, a ballad titled “Apples and Cigarettes.” It’s the bare sound you’ll be craving after “Kill The Lights.” It feels like an unfinished demo, and Chaidez’s voice shines even more. It’s raw and perfect.

In the same way that “Like A Stranger” was pop with a wistful edge, “Kitten” is decidedly an ‘80s college party in a plastic case. There’s a little bit of everything, from stirringly personal songs to commoditizing dancefloor calls. If you didn’t know better, you might peg the album as something out of the 106.7 KROQ offices, circa 1986. It’s scrumptious and extravagant, just like the onstage personality of Chaidez herself. If “Like A Stranger” was where Kitten gained its sex appeal, this is where its lure was perfected.

Voices choices: “Devotion,” “Cut It Out”

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