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Cat's Eyes - Cat's Eyes

cats eyes sleeveI picked this up after reading some interviews and some glowing reviews that constantly mentioned the influence of Phil Spector, Shangri Las and Joe Meek on Cat's Eyes, a side-project of Faris Badwan of The Horrors. The Horrors I can take or leave, but this collaboration featuring the classically trained Rachel Zeffira goes way beyond the touchstones of the girl group sound straining into a darker more experimental sound.

From the lone opening piano chord lifted from the Shangri-Las 'Leader of the Pack', 'Cat's Eyes' lurches straight into swirling sixties psychedelic pop. And it gets better. The winsome 'The Best Person I Know', couched in sugary Carpenters strings and haunting soft-sighing aahs, captures the simple naivety of the best of the sixties girl group sound with some unexpected electronic wooshing, as way out as any production from the RGM studio on London's Holloway Road. Zeffira, though operatically trained, opts for a purer more restrained pop approach here. It works perfectly. On 'I'm Not Stupid', her forlorn voice is wrapped in soft cooing over gentle piano and orchestral arrangements as she wistfully ruminates on her shortcomings in the looks department. With its sixties organ, clockwork rhythm and weeping strings 'Not A Friend' stands as a wonderful counterpoint to The Paris Sisters' 'My Best Friend'.

The garage pop-rock of 'Face In The Crowd' takes on a Nancy and Lee call and response structure with Badwan the roaming male and Zeffira the put-upon downtrodden girlfriend. The entire thing is riddled with twangy guitars and Zeffira's honeyed seductive tones. Cat's Eyes know their reference points and work them wonderfully into this side-project.

Things take a darker turn on 'Bandit', the protagonist cast as a philanderer as deadly as a gunman, with horns, a snaking eastern motif and Morricone-styled whistling. It plummets further on 'Sooner Or Later', with an almost Tracy Pew floor scraping bass and Badwan's Nick Cave lite drawls. With dirgey drones cut through with slicing strings it's like listening to Andrew Poppy orchestrated Psychic TV crossed with the Birthday Party.

The up-tempo 'Over You' is a glorious mixture of the Poppy Family, John Barry and Saint Etienne before 'I Knew It Was Over' wraps up the album with a melancholic piano score and the emotive touches of Faris Badwan draped in Zeffira's angelic swoons.

Cat's Eyes have done a sterling job in making it all sound so simple but scratch the surface here and you'll discover this eponymous album is packed with exquisite arrangements - it's really not the Phil Spector Wall of Sound production that others have hinted at - that draw upon the haunting aspects of those early sixties productions but ultimately these are love songs mixed with experimental touches. The fact that you can read this as a pop album is a testament to their song writing prowess that successfully distils the more obscure and difficult aspects into a more palatable form.

Cat's Eyes really share an affinity with Spell, the collaboration between experimental noise artist Boyd Rice and Rose McDowall (of Sorrow and Strawberry Switchblade fame), which itself looked to the girl group sound and sixties songs of love and death, written by Joe Meek, Nancy and Lee, Priscilla Paris, Rod McKuen, Jacques Brel and Terry Jacks amongst others. Even Zeffira's vocal tones and accompaniment are very reminiscent of McDowall's bittersweet voice. If you know Spell's Seasons In The Sun you'll love this, and conversely if you enjoy this you'll love the Spell release. Cat's Eyes orchestral girl group sound is certainly a surprise and an unexpected gem. For more information go to catseyesmusic.com