The Warmest Place
I'm going to go ahead and admit that I know and quite like Catherine Kelleher aka Catcall, and that I recently took a day in lieu to watch Wrestlemania with her boyfriend who is also a friend of mine. That pretty much dissolves any non-bias one should expect from an album review as I: a) am obviously going to find it hard to criticise someone I'm friends with; and b) don't want to feel icy tension between Mr Catcall and I whilst I'm trying to enjoy Summer Slam on our next day in lieu. That being said, when I initially discovered Catcall, which involved me seeing the brilliant Satellites video directed by SPOD, I had no idea who she was and loved it straight away.
There was something about Satellites that immediately appealed to me. Obviously the tune is catchy as fuck and is one of the standout tracks on The Warmest Place, while the video is vibrant and striking and wonderfully simple yet clever. But something about Catcall was unlike anything I'd really seen from an Australian artist previously. Now that I've had a little time to reflect and gotten to know Cathy and her music better, I think I've realised that what I was initially drawn to in Catcall is simple — she's complete.
Whereas so many other local artists take time to find themselves and establish their music as unique, Catcall feels like she's arrived fully formed. Whether it's her music/style/album artwork/videos/live show — they all appear to be very calculated and meticulously thought through, not in a cold or scientific way, but more like a fully formed character in a compelling story by a novelist. Catcall is Catcall and it's hard to say that she's imitating any other artist.
And with the release of The Warmest Place, it's evident (in Sydney at least) that I'm not the only one that is enjoying the refreshing citrus burst that Catcall has dosed into the local, rather stagnant music scene. Her picture has graced the cover of various print and online media outlets, her album is getting a decent earful of airplay (although Triple J yet again failed to show any foresight and picked Temper Trap knock-off The Medics as this week's feature album) and she's generally getting the kind of equally decent alternative/mainstream coverage most artists only dream about.
You could argue a lot of that comes down to the support of her label and the team of creative minds she has working around her, but I really think that this entire project has involved a lot of strategy and awareness from Catherine. She even said herself in my recent interview with her that she's disenchanted with the current state of popular music in this country.
"Everything in Australian music feels really earnest at the moment and it's pissing me off! Like indie music with like the Jezabels and Matt Corby, that music is really emotional and heartbreaking and everyone's clips are whimsical."
I fully agreed with her at the time, although I was surprised to hear an Australian musician be so openly combative with other local artists. It is, after all a very one for all and all for one scene. Again though, it was refreshing to hear an artist express her own, legitimate opinion.
That courage is also reflected in her art. It surely would have been easier to make an album that was darker, more drenched in reverb, more moody, more "earnest", especially given the record's context (The Warmest Place is largely inspired by the death of her father a few years ago). Going to the lengths of transforming the most traumatic event in your life into the inspiration to craft a bright and upbeat pop album, rather than take the easier, more self-pitying creative path should be commended.
That being said, I think those murky emotional undertones are what gives the music on this record it's most appealing element — a true sense of vulnerability that the listener can connect with on some level, either consciously or unconsciously. It's the cliched "thing you just can't put your finger on," that I think a lot of people will also identify with when they hear it.
I can't be completely one-sided on the positivity metre. Kelleher isn't a trained musician like a Kate Miller-Heidke or a Katie Noonan, and that is reflected in the somewhat awkward/overly simple arrangements on the record. She's also not going to be competing on The Voice anytime soon. She does, however, have an obvious ear for crafting pop hooks and a honest and personal song writing style that adds to her context and her aura — and she's surrounded her self with the right collaborators in both her producers and her live band that have helped to effectively articulate those ideas in a way that compensates for her lack of traditional musical skills.
In the end though, the best way I feel I can explain my reaction to this album comes down to iPod Shuffle. Whenever my playlist is set to random and a Catcall tune kicks in, I feel an instant wave of change in my mood. I'm literally transported to a "warmer place." I know that sounds corny but it's true. Whether I'm drifting along to Swimming Pool, strutting to August, or throwing a lounge room dance party on pingas with Satellites*, there's something about this music and what it's emotionally and artistically wrapped in that just gets to me.
The Warmest Place excites me not only for what it does musically but for what it does for music. I really hope it inspires some more local artists to take risks too and to invest themselves more personally in their music. Whether this works for Catcall in the long run is yet to be seen, and I'll be closely monitoring her career as both a friend and a critic to see if she's successful. One thing is for sure though — curiosity may kill the cat, but she won't be going out a pussy.
* True story.