Written by: Dave Cantrell
As an audio engineer who also happens to be a founding member of Daytrotter Studios, Patrick Stolley, here resuming his musical persona as The Multiple Cat after a decade-plus absence (2006’s The Secret of the Secret of.. was a stop-gap retrospective), has learned a thing or two about track sequencing. He has also, big surprise, become quite pop savvy and sonically adroit, none of which would fetch a tinker’s damn without the fine songs to go with, but that’s not a problem here, as (again unsurprisingly) there are eight of those on The Return of The Multiple Cat, present and accounted for and all in the right order.
Immediately more robust than the Cat’s 20th C. output, “His Master’s Voice” comes jumping into the room fully-formed, all perk hooks and drum kicks and thronging bass, the sound immaculate and splashy, GBV via caffeine rather than PBR. “The Hill, Part 1” continues further along the established path but the pop has begun to shade a bit more umbrous, there are ‘dark spots on the ceiling’ and ‘sighs deep into the night’ and by “The Other World,” slowing down to poignant reflection, expertly distilled with bare vocals and a gently-washed arrangement, earlier critical raps of map-wide influence sampling are confidently put to rest. Any identifiables that happen to float to the surface, such as the Beck-like lyrical calisthenics of “Vampire Bats/Mall Rats,” are less a case of name-that-tunesmith than of savoring a flavor organically derived.
As it happens, on most of The Return Of..’s tracks you’d be hard-pressed to find ready signifiers so it would seem most advisable, maybe, to give up the precursor hunt and roll along with the proceedings, and centerpiece “The Flood” is your perfect opportunity. A near-death-by-drowning epic bursting with economy, in pure craft terms – and this is true throughout the album – the temptation may arise to cite New Pornographers but in truth you’ll find little of Newman’s go-for-baroque tendencies here, and even the Built To Spill-ish 3-in-1 song structure will, I doubt, occasion any viable comparisons to the wizard of Boise. Nope, sorry, what we’re dealing with here is a talented songwriter meeting in the selfsame person an equally talented producer and the result, stretching the song’s entire 8-minute length, is a singular piece of career-defining music that goes all the way from a beyond-catchy basement beat complete with crisp acoustic picking, a percussive keyboard shimmer, a bassline to make you shiver and sigh and a few strategically placed HEYs, into Stolley’s easy forceful vocal – first words: ‘When the ridiculous is true’ – through a complex, pop-proggy middle eight (OK, a slight nod to Dirty Projectors maybe. You got me there), fading into a transition somehow both jarring and seamless before emerging into an utterly transfixing next-to-last movement with a crying lead guitar then exiting as it came in, popping with resilience, buoyant, exuberance with a wistful edge.
A tour de force, certainly, but in terms of mix-tape worthiness hardly alone. “Disaster!” deserves its own spot on that ‘Best of the First Half of 2013 Mix,’ lightening the mood while holding its own between those selections from Savages and Wire, or nestling up all cozy next to Camera Obscura, carrying along a similar implacable groove of the triumphant, never-mind-the-lyrics (bit doomy in this case, but palatably so) rock sophisticate. With “Know Past, Know Future,” something of a mid-album triptych comes to a satisfying close, a trio of songs that manages the counter-intuitive trick of making the downbeat themes seem uptempo, the downtempo moments seem oddly upbeat. Obviously some sweetspot-hitting, sleight-of-tune involved but Stolley admits as much inside “The Flood,” that ‘there were things to do that only we know how to do,’ and insofar as this new record’s concerned, that’s as true as true gets.
By the time we glide out on the short, resonant, semi-folky “The River,” the final stroke of masterful sequencing and a lovely, and lovingly produced, coda – an aching pedal steel arching overhead – it’s happened again: another great little album has sneaked up on us from a crowded left field. Seems the summer’s filling up with them and summer’s not even officially here yet.
– Dave Cantrell