An album that shape-shifts and surprises with a graceful, effortless ease.
Mischa Pearlman 2012
The set-up for Katzenjammer is this: they’re an all-girl four-piece from Norway who met at music school in 2005 and who play (and swap) some 15 instruments between them, including a giant balalaika – a three-stringed, triangle-shaped Russian instrument that can be as tall as a man.
It’s no surprise, then, that their second album – the bittersweetly-titled A Kiss Before You Go – is awash with musical moments that are equally idiosyncratic and eclectic.
While their band name is German for "cat's wail", there’s little that’s discordant about the 12 tracks constituting this record. Well, there are moments on the quirky, off-kilter Cocktails and Ruby Slippers – most notably the opening minute or so – that are deliberately dissonant and shrill, and the up-tempo, near rambunctiousness of Loathsome M recalls The Cramps by way of Sleater-Kinney. But on the whole, the cabaret dramatics of these compositions are more melodic and tuneful, if incredibly varied.
Soviet Trumpeter, an atmospheric waltz that tingles and tinkles with a fragile piano leitmotif, sounds like a Danny Elfman score to an animated feature film that Tim Burton’s yet to make. Elsewhere, Rock-Paper-Scissors is a straightforward, catchy pop song, albeit one with a traditional Irish jig serving as its foundation. It offers a stark contrast to God’s Great Dust Storm, the album’s melancholy, moody and gospel-inspired closer, which sounds nothing like anything preceding it.
But then, that could be said for all the songs here. They all share the same musical fabric, and are clearly recognisable as the product of these four furtive, inventive minds (and their many instruments), but each is quite distinct from the next. The result is an album that brims with an inspiring creativity, but which always puts the songs first.
Peculiar and unconventional, this is an album which constantly shape-shifts and surprises, but does so with a graceful, effortless ease that feels incredibly natural and utterly delightful.