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Music Reviews: The Cat Empire, What Made Milwaukee Famous, and Persephone’s Bees

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Regular readers may have noticed that I cover a lot of music here. The cool part of that is I get a lot of free music. A lot. The downside of it is I get a lot of free music. While I really try to review anything and everything worth mentioning, occasionally I get so inundated, some things get shuffled to a lesser priority than others. A number of factors weigh into this, but the main culprit is time – there are only so many hours in a day. Bare minimum, I listen to an album three times before even attempting to review it. And then there's my need to research the band.

There's another factor at play, and it has nothing to do with the merits of a particular album. In my reviews, I attempt to cut through to the essence of the album, without talking it to death. My feeling is that the reader only wants to know if an album is worth their time and money — not whether the artist may have a tie to an obscure French poet. As a result, some works, particularly EPs, don't lend themselves to a lengthy review.

The eponymously titled EP by the Cat Empire is a case in point. If you haven't heard of the Cat Empire, you will soon. This Melbourne-based sextet are multi-platinum stars in Australia, and they're set to storm the States in early 2007, with the American release of Two Shoes.

Recorded in Havana, Two Shoes fuses Latin rhythms, jazz, funk, hip-hop, barrelhouse blues, ska and rock into a miraculously cohesive whole. It's a #1 hit Downunder, and with good reason. For now, we Yanks have to be content to whet our appetites with this compilation teaser EP.

The six songs here are culled from their three Australian releases, and they're all winners. Think Madness, with reggae-style Clash sitting in, at a beach party, and you have a rough idea of their sound. Watch out for these guys.

While they may have the worst band name in history, What Made Milwaukee Famous is actually a pretty good, albeit uneven, listen. Trying to Never Catch Up, their debut release on indie label Barsuk, is actually a remastered reissue of their 2004 self-release, for those keeping score of such trivialities.

Like a lot of Austin bands, WMMF know their music on a technical level, and they showcase their technical expertise and influences just a tad bit too much. At some points, they sound like an eighties power pop band, at others, brooding artistes and at yet others, Bay area hippies. Still, most of the songs here hold up quite well individually. As a cohesive package, however, it's lacking. Chalk it up to artists searching for their voice. When it's all said and done, though, WWMF is going places, regardless of how much I hate that name.

Persephone's Bees is a band name that rolls off the tongue a bit better (at least, for literary types.) Notes From the Underworld is an exuberant pop rock album that never strays far from its punk roots. Fronted by Russian-born Angelina Moysov, the Bees have a sound that harken back to the heyday of eighties new wave, with a vibe that falls somewhere between the pop balladry of the Motels and the post-punk anthems of Siouxie and the Banshees, with a dash of Chrissie Hynde thrown in for luck. This is the core of rock — guitar, bass, drums and vocals — played with a conviction that undermines any pop superficiality. Make no mistake about it – Persephone's Bees will be a breakout band in the coming months. Make that the breakout band.

I've always said there's good music out there – you just have to look for it. In this case, I just had to listen to things that got buried in the clutter.

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