Which musicians would you expect to gatecrash Buckingham Palace to carry out an unsolicited concert? Could it be some struggling anarcho-punk band looking to shake up the system and raise their profile in the process? Might it be ardent republican and regular royal-basher Morrissey? Or maybe DJ Mike Read and the Independents embarking on a last ditch attempt to bolster Leave EU’s campaign with a stirring rendition of UKIP Calypso from the cradle of British patriotism?
The answer, which you should note down for future pub quizzes, is alternative pop duo Cat’s Eyes, who managed to bullshit their way into the palace by tagging onto an ensemble of Renaissance-period musicians to perform a subdued rendition of new album track ‘We’ll Be Waiting’. The duo have proven form when it comes to co-opting archaic institutions to showcase new music, as back in 2011 they wangled their way into the Vatican to perform in front of several oblivious cardinals for their debut live performance. Who knows, maybe album number three will see them serenading a confused King Charles at his coronation?
The fact Cat’s Eyes are able to get away with such uber-retro stunts is mainly due to the timelessness of their sound. Multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira is a dab hand at utilising her classically trained background to craft multi-layered pop songs that echo both 1960s girl-troupe pop and 1660s chamber music in equal measure. Her commitment to making music that isn’t anchored in time by modern instruments or recording techniques is mirrored in her collaborator Faris’ enthusiasm for self-invented instruments and the subversion of musical trends on the last few albums The Horrors have produced. The resulting material feels old-fashioned without ever sounding antiquated, prompting the same sense of curious fascination experienced when discovering a sealed and undated love letter hidden in a musty box while clearing out the family attic.
Romantic in both senses of the word, ‘Treasure House’ bristles with harps, organs, oboes, violins (not to mention less recognisable baroque instruments such as the wind-powered dulican) while also lyrically resonating with themes of infatuation and open-hearted vulnerability. But even though all these ingredients were present on their 2011 debut they seemed disjointed, even amateurish. At that point the two musicians were still getting to know one another, each filling in the other’s respective musical blindspots and haphazardly forming songs out of jokey demo tracks. The result was an album full of good ideas that sounded like its creators were having great fun making it, but which often failed to mesh together smoothly enough to invite multiple re-listens.
Here everything seems whole and fully realised, the sound of a fleshed out band sure in its own identity rather than the end result of a prolonged mixtape crush. The aforementioned ‘We’ll Be Waiting’ channels Pachelbel via Jason Mraz while the beautiful ‘Girl In The Room’ glides breezily across reeds and bracken, its uneasy idyll providing a suitable soundtrack to any seemingly perfect setting at the opening of an Ian McEwan novel before the inevitable arrival of some bitter tragedy. The dreamy baroque aesthetics contribute to what can only be described as a ‘lakehouse retreat’ vibe, a feeling that is enhanced by both singers’ heart-on-sleeve ruminations on love and loss.
Somewhat oddly the album is also peppered with a number of tracks that are almost direct homages to the distinctive vocal stylings of The Mamas And The Papas. On ‘Drag’ and ‘Be Careful Where You Park Your Car’ Rachel channels the spirit of Mama Cass so convincingly you’d think she was a medium. The latter is a brilliant sugar rush of ‘60s beat music powered by a playful surf rock guitar and The Ronettes-style handclaps, its freewheeling jaunt perfectly complementing its tale of post-breakup vehicular vandalism. Faris’ voice occasionally suffers from being altogether too distinctive in its Psychedelic Furs sneer, but when tempered by Rachel’s soft piano beds and backing harmonies there’s a croaky beauty to his cracked delivery.
Despite the odd lyric about smashing up an ex’s car, this album is essentially about co-habitation. It’s made to be played as the sun creeps through the curtains to illuminate two lovers blissfully gazing into each other’s eyes, unconcerned about anything outside of their own small universe. There is peace and passion to be found a plenty, an all-encompassing blanket of comfort to soothe even the most dispirited heart. If you are finding yourself ever more worn down by the frigid realism of the material world then ‘Treasure House’ may prove to be a suitable sanctuary in which to rejuvenate your weary soul.
Words: Josh Gray
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