One of the biggest and most frustrating musical misconceptions is that sincerity is synonymous with restraint. The louder and more extravagantly one broadcasts his art, so goes the inaccurate theory, the less true feeling he is putting into it.
In reality, an honest exploration of one’s emotions is far more likely to provide a confident spark of empowerment than an ashamed blanket of minimalism. A real artist–one whose emotional pot is boiling to such a degree that no container will suffice–therefore embraces grandiloquence instead of dismissing it as an artificial creation for an Adderall-craving culture of immediacy.
Such a real artist is no stranger to introspection, but he is simultaneously not afraid to broadcast his feelings in an unrestrained, unfiltered medium. Coolness, in such a case, involves accepting the vulnerability of such a loud message rather than hiding behind the quiet, shut-in stereotype of an “artist.”
With its new EP “Like a Stranger,” available on iTunes as of this writing, Kitten demonstrates this confrontation of meaningful sentiment. In this rich, unabashed exploration of genres like New Wave, post-punk, synthpop, retro dance pop and essentially every relevant subset, the band skimps neither on musical extravagance nor on the challenge of authentically packaging such musical leanings for a modern audience. Best of all, it succeeds.
From a superficial standpoint, Kitten absolutely did not need to move in this direction. With its gritty sense of musicality and lead singer Chloe Chaidez’ dual possession of bratty charisma and a genuine rocker edge, the band easily could have thrived in a more conventional alt-indie-punk arena. From day one, the band could play, perform and entertain. Its needs for further eccentricity and gimmick were far from dire.
But emotionally, it was clear that the band possessed pain and yearning that the early format could not adequately communicate. It was clear that Kitten had something bigger to say, and in order to do justice to that message, it had to build a bigger platform.
Enter that New Wave extravagance. With hints of the evolved sound build into “Cut It Out,” the title track from the prior EP, Kitten’s revealed its aim to locate a bright and bombastic sound as musically loud as its statement was poignant.
And on its new EP, it has officially succeeded.
Overflowing with vintage homages and unrestrained musical indulgence, the “Like a Stranger” EP is certainly not a shy or subtle release. But, in attracting a spotlight that provides the band and its feelings nowhere to hide, it is absolutely a meaningful one.
A brilliant exercise in stream of consciousness, “Like a Stranger” forces nothing into a box or rigid musical template and instead paves the way for Kitten to explore its sincere musical hunches.
The synth-driven backing will often take unexpected–but never subtle or half-hearted–turns. The melodies and hooks will flirt with convention before ultimately aligning with something rawer and less obvious. The guiding influences–spanning an entire gamut of acts like The Cure, New Order and Madonna–combine organically, and at times surprisingly, to produce an organic musical atmosphere that is as authentic as it is faithful.
And fusing it all together is Chaidez, whose powerful, loaded vocals expose the Diva’s palpable angst and craving on even the record’s most light, tender and innocuous moments.
Bearing burgeoning similarity to iconic leads Robert Smith and Morrissey, Chaidez does not mistake the concept of restrained delivery for emotional vacancy and instead unleashes her haunting, yet illuminating palette of emotions on every single note. Every piece of the vocal track, in housing an explosive grenade of passion, means something.
That enviable talent of conveying constant poignancy without ceaselessly going over-the-top serves as a perfect complement for the record’s sparkling, yet forcefully-seductive sound.
It, as articulated in Headline Planet’s review of the “Like a Stranger” title track, also provides endless self-justification for Kitten’s stylistic evolution. By creating their own glamorous, yet cautious auras, the six “Like a Stranger” tracks provide the perfect gateway for the dramatically-urgent vocals and stirringly-illustrative lyrics.
They craft a sound that, while heavily-influenced by the past, is unlike anything else because their statement belongs to no one else.
Despite getting so much right, Kitten’s “Like a Stranger” is far from a perfect release. Some of that is unavoidable; an emotionally-intense, stream of consciousness album will naturally produce some asymmetries. It is the toll one pays for taking the path of sincerity.
But even that which isn’t inevitable is not necessarily destructive. While songs like “Graffiti Soul” feature a notably rougher, more convoluted and less-masterful construction than the more succinctly-crafted “Like a Stranger” and “I’ll Be Your Girl,” they also depict the extent to which the band remains immensely ambitious and fervently unsatiated.
As far as anything approximating this genre goes, one will be hard-pressed to find a more effective contemporary song than “Like a Stranger.” But if there were any truth to the idea that Kitten grew into its latest sound organically rather than strategically, the excellence of that track should only represent an intermediate accomplishment on the band’s journey. As its emotions grow and transform, so too will the specifics of how Kitten articulates its message.
With the EP’s latter tracks, the band indeed proves that it is not done finding itself and that it is not done adapting to the burning pains, desires and perspectives it internally possesses.
“King of Kings,” in particular, reinforces the extent to which this band remains hungry and unfulfilled. Featuring the EP’s most theatrical tone, its most atmospheric vocals and its most soaring, rocking guitars, the song’s epic final portion, sure to be popular in the band’s live sets, is as literally big as its optimistic commentary on the future of Kitten is figuratively bright.
Now that Kitten is where it belongs musically, the band’s ongoing ambition can be channeled into stylistic improvement rather than transformation. And for those already satisfied by the band’s progress, which should be just about anyone who appreciates meaningful music, that fundamental shift is tantamount to a promise that Kitten’s contribution to music is soon to become even more special.
Kitten – Like a Stranger EP
Available August 27
1 – Like a Stranger
2 – Yesterday
3 – I’ll Be Your Girl
4 – Doubt
5 – Graffiti Soul
6 – King of Kings