Album of the Day: Cat Power, “Wanderer”

Cat Power’s cover of “Stay,” the 2012 Rihanna and Mikky Ekko hit, features Chan Marshall nearly alone at a piano, gently pushing the keys down as she sings about sexual desire and romantic confusion. The instrument is miked so closely that you can hear the inner levers and mechanisms groan and whimper, each push and release of the pedal, until those ambient noises become a part of the music itself. Even when she layers her own vocals or adds a flourish of synths, the song never loses its intensity or its intimacy.

This musically and emotionally austere palette was once the province of Cat Power, which has been Marshall’s stage identity for more than two decades now. In the mid ‘90s, she earned a reputation for intense and occasionally unsettling shows, at times performing with her back to the audience. That unpredictability transferred to early recordings like 1995’s Dear Sir and 1996’s What Would the Community Think, where she established the foundation for later forays into R&B on 2006’s The Greatest and folk-rock on 2012’s Sun.

Wanderer recalls those early albums in its minimalism and melodicism, although it’s never as harrowing. Written while she was pregnant with her son, its songs typically feature little more than piano or guitar, occasionally percussion, and the rattle of chains or ambient piano noise, but the music is dialed back to emphasize the expressiveness of Marshall’s voice. Sometimes she sings alone, her voice low and bluesy; other times she layers herself into a choir of harmonizing Chans. In this barer-bones setting, her defining musical eccentricities shine through more clearly than they have in a decade, especially the pitched-corrected vocals fluttering through “Horizon” or the piano arabesques unscrolling throughout “In Your Face.” It’s tempting to call Wanderer a return to form, but Marshall relishes these moments too much to live in the past.

-Stephen M. Deusner

2 Comments

  1. AndyW
    Posted February 17, 2019 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Yes a fine album!

  2. Posted October 9, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    How beautiful, I loved the summary

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