The Cat Empire “effect”

When a band tours incessantly, individual shows can get lost in a shuffle of airports, continental breakfasts, and sweat, but The Cat Empire’s Felix Riebl can’t say the same about their time in Montreal.
“The first time we went to Canada, we played in Montreal to a room full of people who knew all the words,” recalled Riebl. “A few years later, we played the main stage at the Jazz Festival, and it was one of the biggest audiences we had ever played for. So Montreal is a very special point in our tour. We’ve made lasting friendships there, and everyone in the band is looking forward to those shows.”
The Cat sextet truly feeds off of their tours. Trumpeter and vocalist Harry James Angus, drummer Will Hull-Brown, DJ Jamshid Khadiwhala, keyboardist and back-up vocalist Ollie McGill, bassist Ryan Monro, and vocalist Riebl are each established musicians in their own right, but together they jive, jam, and soak up the sounds of their surroundings.
“We got into this cycle where we would tour, then make albums about the excitement and pressure of the tour,” explained Riebl. “Our music is about the spirit of travelling, while being open-minded.”
There are many terms one could use to describe The Cat Empire, and jazzy-Australian-ska-reggae’d Afro pop is what first comes to mind. Yet the band claims no one “sound” is intentional, and they don’t wish to be defined by genre or continent. The result is a feel-good, toe-tapping, sing-a-long, groovin’ escape.
“I don’t think it matters that we’re from Australia, or from anywhere else,” explained Riebl. “We’re not active cultural ambassadors, we’re musicians. We play together, and that’s our sound.”
Their live shows first hypnotized dancehall audiences into a frenzy over a decade ago in their homeland Australia. In time, they gathered an immense international following through word-of-mouth, playing over a hundred shows a year and sliding unscathed under mainstream media’s radar, retaining underground status.
Five albums and over 800 shows later, The Cat Empire is finishing its 10th anniversary tour in dedication to the fans that greased their wheels.
The band first began as an academic instrumental experiment in 1999 with McGill, Riebl and Monro meeting on stage as part of the Jazz Cat, a nine-piece outfit from different Melbourne schools. That same year, they got together and formed The Cat Empire, which began as a trio, but became much larger with the addition of Angus, Hull-Brown and Khadiwhala in 2001.
They gigged around Melbourne, from playing shows just to pay rent, to headlining local festivals.
“I remember after one of our biggest shows, saying ‘I wish I could do this every night’,” recalled Riebl. “And then, that’s kind of what happened. It was a wondrous moment.”
They established a strong Australian fanbase, toured the American west coast, and played a sixteen-show stint at Edinburgh Festival before their 2003 debut studio album The Cat Empire went platinum in under five months.
“The whole experience took us by surprise,” said Riebl. “Even after a successful album, we were never quite sure where it all came from. When you’re playing live for an audience, it becomes real, and you know where you stand. [The success] can be quite alienating, but it was a hell of a ride.”
The Cat Empire “effect” isn’t entirely captured in recordings alone. After experiencing them live, and watching the band and crowd feed off each other’s euphoria, one understands how concertgoers become rabid hype machines.
“It’s really a question of atmosphere,” Riebl guessed. “It’s the combination of the audience and the music, and what that does to a room.”

The Cat Empire are playing back-to-back shows at Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine St. E.) on March 30 and 31. Tickets are $39.20 in advance.


Mixtape: Post-reading week rhapsody

The first days back to school after any sort of break are always an interesting time. From getting back into getting up at a respectable hour, to reacquainting yourself with that girl who is always correcting the professor under her breath (you know who you are), it can be a trying time. Not to mention the fact that with mid-terms now behind you, it’s pretty much full on exam time when you get back from reading week.
While one could get into hard drug use or religion to cope, there are better, and arguably healthier methods. Since the dawn of rock and roll in the late 1940s and early 1950s, there have been countless songs composed on the subject of school: getting back to school, fraternity life  and hot-rod dissertations. This mixtape pretty much covers all aspects of the school experience. Enjoy.

SIDE A: Hot for teacher
1. “Hot Rod Dissertation” – The Royal Pendletons – Oh Yeah, Baby
2. “No Class” – Motörhead – Overkill
3. “Fraternity, U.S.A.” – The Lady Bugs – Fraternity, U.S.A.
4. “School’s Out” – The Spits – The Spits IV (School’s Out)
5. “Be True to Your School” – The Beach Boys – Little Deuce Coupe
6. “Schools are Prisons” – The Ex Pistols – Deny
7. “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” – The Yardbirds – For Your Love
8. “Barbara” – The Modernettes – Teen City E.P.
9. “School Jerks” – The Veins – School Jerks
10. “Low Grades and High Fever” – Linda Laine & The Sinners – Freddie and the Dreamers and Other Great English Stars

SIDE B: Be cool, stay in school
11. “Scholastic Aptitude” – The Urinals – Negative Capability
12. “Charlie Brown” – The Coasters – Charlie Brown
13. “High School Yum Yum” – The Donnas – The Donnas
14. “School Days” – The Runaways – Waitin’ for the Night
15. “Hot Rod High” – The Hondells – Go Little Honda
16. “High School Nervous Breakdown” – Forgotten Rebels – Boys Will be Boys
17. “Die Schule ist Aus” – Die Sweetles – Die Schule ist Aus
18. “High School Confidential” – Hasil Adkins – Out to Hunch
19. “Teach Your Children” – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà Vu
20. “Rock and Roll High School” – The Ramones – End of the Century

Listen to this week’s mixtape here on


Quickspins + Retroview

Band of Skulls – Sweet Sour (Electric Blues Records; 2012)

Sweet Sour is the second studio album from British trio Band of Skulls. Their sophomore effort brings back the gritty guitar riffs and smooth vocal harmonies that put Baby Darling Doll Face Honey on the alt-rock map, but fails to fully live up to the debut’s promise. The first half of Sweet Sour groups together all the heavy songs, which results in a feeling of “where did the album go?” as the second half closes with one meandering, slow number after another. As a whole, the album lacks expected creativity and plays on the safe side of the music industry, seemingly vying for a single on MTV and a radio hit.  But its shortcomings don’t mean that it isn’t an enjoyable album. Stomp rock track “The Devil Takes Care of His Own” easily steals the spotlight as the best showcase of Russell Marsden’s catchy, dirty guitar riffing. It just never finds the breakthrough originality it needs.

Rating: 7.0/10

Trial track: “Wanderluster”

– Lindsay Rempel

Young Liars – Homesick Future (Self-released; 2012)

Electro-indie group Young Liars will have you bobbing your head and swaying your hips along to their rhythmic tracks from their latest EP Homesick Future. The Vancouver-based band released their first EP in early 2011 and have plans to make their full-length album debut sometime in 2012, but have released both EPs to tide listeners over until then.
All seven songs on Homesick Future have lengthy instrumentals that encompass you in the music. In contrast to the verses, the choruses have simple, repetitive lyrics, allowing the listener to pick them up in no time.
Unfortunately, at times the music seems to overpower the vocals, creating a cacophony of sound that breaks the melodic flow. The songs on Homesick Future are catchy but easily forgotten, with the exception of the song “Colours” where the electronica background music, guitar riffs and fresh vocals mesh together perfectly.
Overall, Homesick Future is good without being great.

Rating: 6.8/10

Trial track: “Colours”

– Natasha Taggart

Tennis – Young & Old (Fat Possum; 2012)

A little over a year after disembarking from Cape Dory, husband-and-wife duo Tennis are landlocked and ready to release their sophomore album, Young & Old.
Teaming up with The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney to oversee the production, the album reveals an obvious divergence from Tennis’ previous songwriting with a more polished sound. A welcomed addition, Carney seems to lend a much needed structure to the songs. He is likely also responsible for a tinge of sass in lead vocalist Alaina Moore’s crooning vocals, especially demonstrated in R&B-inspired “My Better Self” and “Petition.” Despite the occasional quirk, the 10 tracks follow the same brisk-paced urgency, rendering the album monotonous.
My main concern with Tennis is that they don’t seem to be able to find their voice. Remaining true to their kitschy sea-shanty act would become tiresome, but too big a change in any direction would cause fans to question their sincerity.

Rating: 6.0/10

Trail track: “My Better Self”

– Paul Traunero

The Grateful Dead – American Beauty (Warner Bros. Records; 1970)

There aren’t too many people who can say they’ve mastered composing, poetry, songwriting, piano, banjo, guitar, pedal steel guitar, painting and drawing, all while missing a key digit from their right hand, but The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia did, and American Beauty exemplifies his prowess. The classic jam band’s fifth studio album further cemented the Dead as one of America’s great, iconic jam bands with timeless hits like “Ripple,” “Box of Rain,” “Truckin’” and “Sugar Magnolia.” Building upon the country and folk styles of their previous albums, American Beauty epitomizes easy listening and pure audio delight. The album takes you on a voyage through 1960s America. All of the usual suspects are there: freedom, love, music, travel, luck, and of course, drugs. Anyone who hasn’t heard this album multiple times from beginning to end is doing a disservice to themselves, and possibly even the world.
So, go make yourself a headband out of daisies, put on your tie-dye, and let this album move you in ways you never knew possible.

Trial track: “Till the Morning Comes”

– Allie Mason

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