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Cat Power
Matador; 2012

This is most likely not the first review of Sun that you’ve read, and that’s OK. I’ve read a few over the course of this week as well, along with a horde of thinkpieces on the “return” of Cat Power. Technically, Chan Marshall hasn’t gone anywhere, but she also hasn’t released an album of original material since The Greatest in 2006. And while everything you’ve read about this new record contains that little factoid, it’s emblematic of the station that this respected artist holds in the minds of fans, critics, and her fellow musicians. She has this distinctive sort of voice, perspective, story, and personality that appeals to people – we want her to keep making music, and we’re kinda sad when she’s silent for so long.

So, it’s no wonder that people have veritably geeked out over this new project and why it’s been discussed in mostly rapturous tones. And I’ll admit to that sort of hagiography on some level, mostly because I dig the woman’s music and how she openly struggles with her being an intensely introverted person who just happens to be an icon in the indie rock community. The strength of Sun lies in this dichotomy and how Chan relates these situations through mildly autobiographical tracks like “Ruin,” “Always On My Own,” and “Nothin’ But Time.” This is a mature, grownup record that revels in its intimacy and how she shares that with her fans and listeners.

In terms of her personal canon, the album uses the singer’s relative age and experiences to merge the dank Moon Pix aesthetic with the moody cynicism of You Are Free to great effect. Or to put a finer point on things, vintage Chan shines through in regards to lyrical creativity and penchant for evocative (and troubling) word pictures, but it’s her constant desire for innovation, reinvention, and reinterpretation guiding the record to where it needs to go. She’s consciously moved past the instrumental tropes from The Greatest and Jukebox to embrace greater electronic accompaniment in the guise of synths, programmed beats (that are pleasantly aggressive at times), and slivers of Auto-Tune in her vocals. Never fear – the strong piano remains the anchor of her sound, but the slick electric guitar work I hear in “Cherokee,” “Sun,” and “3,6,9” also impress me greatly (as it’s rather upbeat for Cat Power).

Sun combines gothic sensibilities and Chan’s familiar post-folk ambience with curiously post-punky elements to create those familiar haunting places that we all love in her music. And I guess what’s what I love most about the record – the there’s greater diversity to the components than ever before, but the relative result is the same. Led by “Human Being” and “Silent Machine,” this excellent album is a master class in not resting on one’s laurels and pushing your ideas into new territory to infuse your signature moodiness with fresh vitality.