Review : Katzenjammer - Le Pop
PopmattersLe Pop is not a new album. As a matter of fact, it has already been reviewed here at PopMatters in a manner that I fully and completely agree with.
Le Pop is not an innovative album. At least, it’s not technically so—there’s nothing to be found throughout the entire thing that can’t be traced back to another genre or style or band.
Le Pop is however a great album, and its American release (nearly two years after its release in the band’s native Norway) is cause to celebrate. This is a band getting its due outside its homeland, this is a deserved shot at international success for a band talented enough to actually deserve it. So they don’t write their own songs. So what? They play them, and they play the hell out of them. They play them until you believe them.
Whether you think that means anything or not, it will when you hear Le Pop. Take the fifth track, for example, a raucous thing called “Hey Ho On the Devil’s Back”. After first introducing us to a protagonist in a short, majestic little introduction, we’re thrown into a journey of poor choices borne of exhaustion and unfamiliarity. It’s a journey that’s one part Bonanza, one part Pirates of the Caribbean, one part bluegrass, and one part punk rock. With four-part harmonies. And a piano.
A little later, the title track is a two-and-a-half-minute bludgeoning that sounds like Devo playing carnival music interspersed with a little bit of ‘70s-style girl-group pop music. Of course, they namecheck The Cramps in this one.
Lying innocuously between the two aforementioned songs is a ballad, something that Sarah McLachlan might have composed in one of her ever-dwindling moments of divine inspiration. While the faster songs that surround it give off the impression of large barrels rolling down steep hills, “Wading in Deeper” is a moment of pure patience, a song marked not only by its eventual orchestral majesty but also by its willingness to breathe. By the time the four of them are singing in four-part harmony, the listener may well be singing along as well, as the melody is so simple, engrossing and appealing.
It is in that four-part harmony—not in that song in particular, but across the whole album—that the potential of Katzenjammer is realized. Rather than three “backup” singers supporting one lead singer, you get four strong singers belting out the notes with equal force and power. The effect is that of a wall of voices singing a waltz, a sea shanty, or a lovely ballad in perfect harmony over an equally impressive wall of instruments. Katzenjammer can do this because each of them has a voice that could potentially be singing the lead vocal, which all of them do at some point over the course of Le Pop, and not one sounds like she’s carrying (or dragging down) the rest. Sure, there’s a special place in my heart for the highly-affected, quirky performance of Marianne Sveen on “Demon Kitty Rag”, but I’d have a hard time arguing that it’s more or less technically proficient than any of the other performances on Le Pop.
It’s difficult to tell whether Le Pop actually has a chance of taking off with an American audience, simply because it’s just so difficult to classify. There’s enough of a free spirit to the music of Katzenjammer that it should appeal to an indie audience, but there’s not typically a market for polkas or gypsy music in that audience. It shares many thematic and instrumental traits with country music, but its near-punk tempos and gothic themes might put off that audience as well. It actually fits best in the realm of The Pogues and Dropkick Murphys, being to Norway something like what those bands are to Ireland, though a fairly limited and scattered Norwegian-American audience doesn’t exactly make such a classification a portent of success....full text
PhoenixnewtimesAny of you other old-timers following Nothing Not New read this yet? I know . . . interesting perspective, isn't it: Cheap Trick posited as a band that almost-kinda-sorta hit the big time, that "phoned in it" and were "half-assed." If you lived through the era, as I obviously did, you know that C.T. was one of the biggest rock bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s, selling out arenas, recording several hit singles, and moving millions of units for their label -- and, maybe most importantly, influencing scores of musicians over the course of the next couple of generations as pioneers of power pop. Legacy cemented.
Though I count myself as a big fan, I've always felt they were real hit-and-miss. Many of their records in the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s were spotty and some were flat-out bad, and the band certainly churned out a lot of iffy songs (including their single biggest hit, "The Flame") and included tons of cornball tunes for what seemed like every teenage sex comedy released during the early and mid-'80s.
But when they were on their game, few bands melded pop and hard rock better than Cheap Trick. Their self-titled 1977 debut is a near-perfect fusion of classic, melody-based pop, some of the artier and glammy British rock of the mid-'70s, and the edgy energy of the blossoming American punk scene. And it's all wrapped up in a dark and often darkly comic themes of getting by in the late 1970s. In my eyes, The Pretenders' self-titled debut, Devo's debut, the Ramones' Rocket to Russia, X's Wild Gift, and Cheap Trick's are the best American punk albums (I know, 75 percent of The Pretenders were British, but their leader was 100 percent Midwestern) of the classic era of punk -- and three of those acts are not even considered to be punk. But for a very brief time, Cheap Trick were a great punk band in addition to always being a very good pop-rock band....full text
CountrymusicprideBeing new to the world of album reviews, I decided to just write whatever popped into my head while listening to Le Pop for the first time (not unlike anything else I write, ever).
I generally love things with bells and accordion-sounding instruments, so this sounds really promising from moment one, and very eclectic, and very un-categorize-able. I’m waiting for the lead of Gogol Bordello to come in with his crazy guy voice and tell me to start wearing purple.
Oh yes…I like this. The lead’s voice sounds a little bit like Hayley Williams with a tiny accent, or a more mellow Roisin Murphy, and when the other girls chime in, the harmonies are tight enough that you think it miiiiight be the lead’s voice, just dubbed over and over again, but you’re not willing to commit to that.
The lyrics, in general, are fun, while not being entirely life changing, which I really appreciate. I get tired of new bands that think they have so many important and amazing and never-been-though-of things to say that their lyrics are wildly complex metaphors that don’t really make sense and no one resonates with. Although I do wish that Demon Kitty Rag was actually about a kitty.
Katzenjammer walks a fine line with another new band thing I have a hard time with: the use of atypicall, not-necessarily-musical noises in song. I like the sounds of airplanes taking off as much as the next girl (who doesn’t really like them), but that doesn’t mean that I want to hear that at the beginning of a song about how your lost love is like a tear drop at the bottom of the ocean in the wreckage of a 1720s pirate ship that’s been pillaged by modern-day Vikings. But these girls manage to use the strange, unusual-in-music sounds (see Tea With Cinnamon and Le Pop take wild trips to the carnival) consistently throughout songs, and not just as attention getters, so they don’t feel out of place, and somehow, they make sense.
The title track makes me imagine the Beach Boys, the B52s and Toni Basil performing in Disney’s California Adventure’s Paradise Pier. I just needed to say that because I had really strong nostalgic moments of all of those people/places while listening to that song.
Their slower, not-really-ballads-but-still-slow songs are easy to listen to, and do a good job of carrying a full sound, while not trying to be epic....full text
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