Cat & Mouse
U.S. teens have a Grunge spirit (no puns from me sir!)- and a hard set of teeth, which suggests they could be big business pretty soon.
Cat & Mouse is available at:
The E.P. Cat & Mouse is available via:
I have been thinking about the issue of age and youthfulness when…
it comes to new music. I have touched on the issue before, and the pitfalls one can experience- where reviewers and fans focus too much on the youthfulness of an act. I have witnessed many new acts and bands come through and be focused on too wholly because they were young. Critics often drool over these artists, proffering them as modern-day idols: simply because of their age. Back in the ’60s, there were a lot of young bands, such as The Beatles, that were very young: yet were very good, right away. Solo idols such as Bob Dylan were also tender of years; instilled with an instant sense of authority, quality, and- I hate to use the word, but it seems apt- genius. Throughout the decades there have always been examples of sapling talent coming through: fresh-faced and eager, with a hint of naivety. Predominantly, the youngest new musicians tend to be in their early-20s: few teenage stars make a big impression early on. As much as I am impressed by the ambition and focus of musicians so young, I often wonder as to their future. Here in the U.K. we have Laura Marling: the modern epitome of a tender talent, making mature and epoch-making steps. Although she has relocated to the U.S. (in order to pursue a new creative lease of life), she is an example of a young talent that has old, wise shoulders, and is an exception that proves my rule. I tend to find that a majority of young artists- especially solo stars- tend to make underwhelming first steps: releasing some so-so songs; an okay-ish album, before being forgotten about. I am 30 (almost ashamed to say it) and am still refining and defining my ‘voice’ and style. It is axiomatic that the best experiences of your life come a little later along the line: thus making the best inspiration for great songs. Because of a number of factors: a lack of living, a limitation of worldliness, the subjects and thesis of the songs offered by young artists, can be someone homogenised and predictable. If you are lucky enough to make some small impressions right away- making sure that intrigue levels are high- then you have a chance to improve as you go along- managing to forge a long and prosperous career. There seems to be a lack of ambition and potency from the young acts and bands: leading to quite a predictable entropy. What with the music industry being fickle, as well as over-populated, in order for any new act to strive and survive; those initial steps are crucial. From the perspective of the music-lover and reviewer, a focused and relentless microscope is always pointed in the direction of the new talent: hungrily waiting to see what treasures can be unearthed- if any at all that is. For all the four and five-piece bands I have encountered; all of the solo artists I have heard, as well as the rest, an apparent factor comes through: age is important. If the talent coming through is young- teenage/early-20s- then the focus can have negative effects. Too much pressure is put on the shoulders, and a lack of experience and acquired knowledge can mean that the artist has a limited life-span. I am not sure how the issue is going to be rectified and counter-acted, given the sheer size and vulnerability of the marketplace. It is vital to advise caution to a new act: make them aware that some of your best work/ideas can arrive in their late-20s and 30s; experience and getting older can equate to musical supremacy. Too often too many begin their creative life too young; with too much enthusiasm, only to burn out too soon. I mention these points, because you arrive at the feet of new talent- whom are very young- that have the potential for long-term regard and glory. Those artists- whom make big first steps- are the ones that need the most consideration and care: to ensure that they are recording some great music years and decades from now. I have come across some truly wonderful young stars-in-the-making in the U.K.- Kiran Leonard springs to mind, with his multi-instrumental mandates. I suspect that now, as well as the near future, critics and fans should cast their eyes across to the U.S.
It is imperative that younger artists- that have a genuine and worthy talent- are allowed to flourish and grow in the marketplace. The U.K.’s press and overall scene needs an overhaul: someone to regulate the current codes of practise, to ensure that positive change is made. It seems that whatever is being done- or not done- at the moment, is working against new music: not giving a lot of due attention to artists in the long-term. In the U.S., it seems that young talent are given a fairer shake; a better and more diligent sense of care and support. There are a lot of (teenage) bands that are plying their trade in the big cities- New York, L.A., Chicago and Miami- that are making big waves, and winning the patronage of the local inhabitants- as well as a wider community. The cities and towns of the U.S. tend to be less suffocating and subjugation towards creative expression and mobility: musicians are treated more fairly, and given more time to prove themselves. The streets and localities are also more inviting and inspirational. Cafes, bars and music venues are more varied and welcoming; meaning that inspiration is easier to come by. When those artists make their own sounds- buoyed and inspired by the local sounds- their respective work tends to be more quality-assured and convincing: displaying a sharpness and awareness that perhaps a majority of U.K. acts do not. For as long as I have been saying that it is better to be more experienced- and older- when recording music (making sure that you put your best feet forward straight away), I am keen to promote young talent, whom I see as having a great longevity. Radkey are a U.S. trio, whom may be foreign and unknown to many here. Teenage brothers Dee, Isaiah and Solomon are making some great sounds at the moment. They are a punk band, hailing from St. Joseph, Missouri- a state that does not often spring to lips when thinking of great U.S. talent. Situated between Iowa and Arkansas, Missouri has historically been the home to terrific jazz and blues acts. The likes of Scott Joplin put Sedalia on the map; but throughout the ’40s and ’50s, areas like Kansas City were hotspots for the music of the time. Into the ’80s bands like the Blue Moons put garage and rock into the consciousness; shifting the music demography. Where as Branson is still an epicentre for country music, St. Louis is fostering a much-needed alternative. Hardcore bands and rock idols are making their home in the Midwestern climbs; invigorating the young wannabes, and providing inspiration. Our trio probably can relate to what is happening in St. Louis, as their sound has more in common with the hardcore bands, than it does with the country and blues edges, of other towns. The brothers grew up listening to the likes of The Ramones and The Who- pulling together English influences as well as American. The boys have been playing together since 2011- having taught themselves everything they know- and have been playing local gigs; to appreciative and receptive crowds. In 2013 they have already performed at the SXSW showcase: enlivening and scintillating the festival-goers there. They are still in their musical infancy, yet are making some impressive headway, given their combined years (the lads are aged between 15 and 19). Where as home-grown talent such as Strypes (possibly the stupidest band name ever) are recapitulating and rebranding the ’60s R&B and pop; the U.S.’s Radkey are bringing a sense ’80s hardcore to the present-day. Softer sounds and voices may be in the back of the boys’ minds, but their list of influences leans heavily on the…well, heavier: Nirvana, Iron Maiden. The Ramones, Wolfmother etc. My reticence and scepticism regarding young talent (and their long-term potential) is taking a bit of a bashing- in a good way you understand. It seems that youth and inexperience does not always equate to a demarcation and cessation of quality, as Radkey are proving. Bolstered by an impressive cannon of influences and icons; combined with a welcoming and cosmopolitan local scene, it is not a surprise that the lads have been on the minds of many festival promoters. They have managed to supersede and break out of Missouri borders, bringing their music to N.Y. as well as SXSW- in fact they have some international dates coming up soon. The trio have just played dates in England, and it is will not be too long until they are needed back here- well I hope it will not be too long! In the U.K. we have plenty of new bands- and fewer young bands- yet the U.S. influence seems to be more present here. As well as providing an insight into another country’s music culture: one which is proving more welcoming of new music; it is important to have as much diversity present as possible- in order to inspire and motivate new groups and acts here. The Radkey boys have brought Cat & Mouse to our waiting ears- a track that lives up to its chase-and-retreat name; energy and to-and-fro abound.
The initial guitar rush and twang may bring to mind some images of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not-era Arctic Monkeys-cum-Wolfmother. It is immediate and persistent, driving and striking; dropping missiles of electric strings into the landscape, and infusing the track with an instant indie and punk edge. As the percussion joins the scene (as well as some Brianstorm-esque evocation), there is a delicious fusion of U.K. indie; U.S. and ’70s punk, as well as hardcore too: all combined to brew up a barn-storming and flailing dance that hooks you in, and implores your feet to do some moving! The wordless build-up lasts only 16 seconds or so; yet by the time the vocal arrives, a huge amount of intrigue and expectation has been amassed. Dee’s tones are not menacing or bellowed; there is no metallic thrash or Grunge growling to be heard. If anything there is a measured calm. The dark and baritone croon seems more at place in a stoner rock milieus; yet proffering words like: “He had you in his gate/He let you get away…”- it seems to fit perfectly and seem wonderfully suited. At times it is hard to decipher the words; intelligibility and clarity take second fiddle to mood and sound: the boys seem to want to project energy and slam first; subjugating other concerns. It may be a sign of inexperience or an intentional ploy (to draw you more into their sound), but it is the vocal tone, rather than the lyrics; which strike fastest and harder. The song’s themes stray closely to the song title’s implication. A game of cat and mouse is afoot, and whether it is with malice-of-forethought; someone is being toyed with. Whether there is personal relevance and first hand experience, it seems that the protagonist (let the unnamed Mouse) “get away for fun”. If the compositions tried-and-tested template (with some unique touches thrown in) draws in the band’s influences and heroes, then the vocal is more complex. The malevolence and dark croon bring to life the song’s words; making sentiments like “He’s coming for you” hit the mark pretty hard. The Guardian compared the voice to Dave Vanian, but to my mind, the voice is more unique and rarefied: no obvious names jump to mind. Although the song’s heart has some spiked blood to it; and inspires an anxious and nervy story, the boys still manage to infuse plenty of fun into it. A hybrid between The Ramones and The Kaiser Chiefs seems to seem through in the chorus- if you can imagine such a love-child! In spite of the limited years between the boys, they summon up a hell of sound! The percussion is persistent and dominating; drawing to mind a young Dave Grohl (it will be interesting to see how Solomon’s stick skills develop into his 20s). Guitar and bass work trips on a razor wire; fuzzy and infectious the one moment; brutalised and pugnacious the next. Our hero keeps promoting a chilling question: “Are you scared?”; speaking to an anonymous heroine, whom is constantly in fear of a metaphorical mousetrap. Our Missouri boys keep the mood brooding and menacing: between the Jim Morrison-cum-Iggy Pop vocal lasciviousness and the fractious and infectious sonic technicolour, the energy and intrigue never gives in. Our hero manages to play the part of the villain (although to be fair he is villainous narrator, rather than perpetrator) expertly- one could see him recording his vocal with a pair of shades and gel in his head; a sly grin on his face. Protestations including: “You better run” are dolloped out; imploring the song’s Mouse to find solace and shelter- although the intention may not be the most sincere. Whether the central theme of the song is love-gone-bad or something more violent, the imagery and scenes that the band summon up will get under your skin. Everything has a shadow following it; there is a constant sense of movement and chase- at times you are sucked inside the song and feel like you’re being perused. At the 2:00 mark the lyrical menace abates, as a rumbling and bullet-ridden explosion is elicited. The guitar and bass twangs and slaps, but it is the drums- psychotic, menacing and Grohl good- that make the biggest sound. As much as Dee is a stirring and memorable vocalist and axe man; and Isaiah a stunning bass player (and vocal support), it is Solomon’s riffled drum work that will be a huge future-prospect. With some feint heavy metal edges, and a lot of ’80s hardcore; it (drums) is a key component and force. Just when you think that the middle eight will be defined by the percussive majesty, a bloodthirsty and electrifying guitar arpeggio is pulled out the bag: it is fairly brief but undeniably impressive. Atmosphere and reinforcement are the bywords that define the track’s final moments. Wordless chorusing of “Woahs” and “Ohs” are summoned: duplicating and triplicate; rising ever up to create one last menacing grin. With some feedback and electric hold, we come to the end.
Minor niggles aside: the vocal needs to be higher and clearer in the mix for instance, there is little to fault here. The young brothers have an impressive authority and conviction- given that they are in still in their teens. From the handful of available songs they have produced, they also have a nimble and surprising range. Their barometer is dead set on heavy and stormy weather, but it is the way they can move and surprise- within these confines- that marks them out. Songs and sensations go from the shores of Grunge and metal, through to hardcore and punk: everything is tried and experimented with to present a more memorable and diverse whole. Few established bands (or solo artists) have such an impressive sound, which makes Radkey’s youthful vigour all the more impressive. My caution regarding age and inexperience remains to be assuaged. Too many bands and artists have faded out or had their careers ended by their 20s- simply because they have expended so much energy trying to stay current and relevant in people’s minds. Wonderful moves and songs can be discovered when you get into your 30s (and 40s upwards). Think of legends such as Bob Dylan and Queens of the Stone Age. The former produced Blood on the Tracks in 1975 (when Dylan was 33-years-old). It is considered a masterpiece of break-up albums; and remains one of its author’s very best and most memorable albums. The latter’s latest album (…Like Clockwork) may be their strongest yet. It arrives 15 years into the band’s careers; with the frontman (Josh Homme) now in his 40s. As much as the debut moves are the most important, longevity and future prospects are almost as vital. I suspect that the Missouri three-piece will not have to worry too much. With a sound that is both relevant and a little under-valued, they will be able to fit seamlessly into the marketplace, and ensure future dividends. In the U.K. we are familiar with some of Radkey’s shades and edges: many bands try to do what they are doing; few are successful. They will be welcomed warmly here- and are, as they have a lot of fans in the U.K.- and will have a dedicated fan base willing to stand by the guys. It may be early days, but I predict that the brothers will have a successful and varied future. Cat & Mouse is just one piece of their puzzle. Within the space of a few songs, the boys have accosted the attentions of a wide range of music-lovers and sectors. The Cat & Mouse E.P. is a testament to a band whom are ambitious and striking: its five tracks cover a lot of ground and genres. Their native U.S. has taken them to heart- a little now, but it will be more fervent into 2014. The U.K., Australia and Europe will surely follow suit, and future E.P.s and albums will see the boys gain legions more supporters. Each of the band are deserving of praise. From the crooning, intoxicating and emotive vocals; through to solid and succulent bass work; via some sensational drum and guitar work, they have a talent and commitment that will be rewarded highly. Cat & Mouse is an intent and hard-hitting punch, and is a song that will remain in the mind for a while- especially because of its dark and shadowy menace. There are no subjective tones to my predictions- even if their type of sound falls right into my wheelhouse. I have witnesses and born testament to many young bands- each proffering a different sound and mandate. If the trio keep their heads and minds focused; keep the quality rate high, and get out on the road as far and wide as possible, they will be able to relax a little. Those tentative steps can seem like you are walking a tightrope; yet the debut E.P. is a solid foundation that will ensure deciduous flowering and glory. They may be unfamiliar to a lot in the U.K. (and farther afield)…
BUT that is all going to change soon enough.