Friday, December 17th, 2010

AMNESTY WEEK 2K10: Cathy Davey – Little Red

We don’t review much Irish pop. I blame Pat Shortt…


Anthony Easton: Beautiful voice, but twee as hell. Sort of like a less interesting She and Him, plus She and Him really are the only ones that can get away with this kind of thing.

Frank Kogan: Two styles I hate — indie little girl spooky fairytale singing and indie retropop — all in one. And by a minute-and-a-half in I’m taken by this anyway; first, the background voice, in this strangely reduced arrangement, suggesting the vast reaches of a Spector production; and then bells and echoes, more Spector techniques, a small voice surveying a giant landscape, a minimalist tower of sound, if that makes sense.

Katie Lewis: Normally a voice of this timbre would drive me insane if I had to listen to it for more than 3 seconds, but this song is just so damn bewilderingly cute, I can’t hate.

Katherine St Asaph: That the world has imported Villagers from Ireland and still not Cathy Davey — guy was even in her band, for chrissakes — remains a travesty. “Little Red” is the lead single off her third album, The Nameless, where she throws herself into sea shanties, death ballads, cabaret and in this case, Motown. Cathy pulls it off stunningly, but out of context it might seem like a Duffy/Pipettes do-over, looting whichever old genre is trendy for resale. If she was out to chase trends, though, she’s had over eight years, including the one where her first promos started a record-company bidding war and the one where she got a Meteor nom. She’s been nothing but respectful about her influences, and there’s no trace of irony or cutesiness. Then you might notice that the lyrics at first read weirdly reactionary, the song equivalent of a Charlotte Yonge novel: girls, don’t let him in, never mind leave the house! But “Little Red,” on The Nameless, comes after two songs reveling in letting suitors in (“In He Comes” then “Habit,” for the curious), both equally passionate. The album’s a response to grief, and one of the axes is letting everyone in versus shutting everyone out. Both responses come with danger and fear, and at the heart of “Little Red,” as Cathy’s stated, is the gripping fear people let themselves feel. The genius is how she inhabits this fear — she’s one of the best interpreters of songs I’ve heard — to exorcise it until there’s nothing left in its form but joy.

Edward Okulicz: How adorable! I hadn’t heard a single song of hers since Something Ilk seven years ago because that album made me sure she’d never again have another song as good as “Clean And Neat”. And yet, here we are, with wee Cathy having taken Camera Obscura’s bag of tricks and ratcheted up the twee to near-unbearable levels and comprehensively proving me wrong. Note: near-unbearable. And such commitment to the material too: she sweeps across every line with conviction, like she’s a dramatic heroine. It’s pretty gorgeous.

Jessica Popper: Cathy Davey was one of many amnesty artists who I had never heard of before, but she’s quickly become one of my favourite recent discoveries. She’s clearly an indie girl but there’s still enough panache put into the song to keep my pop-loving ears happy. The video is excellent too. Cathy reminds me of mid-00s singers like Butterfly Boucher and Nathalie Nordnes, neither of whom I’ve heard much of lately so it’s great to know their mini-genre won’t die out quite yet.

Zach Lyon: Maybe not an obvious single, but a nice little song anyway — some of the most rewarding replayability out of any of these amnesty tracks, somehow. It might be foolish to try to pin the lyrics down without knowing the precise intent; there’s a lot to be said, but as far as I can come up with, I can only offer a bunch of tags like “male paranoia culture” or “victim-blaming mentality” or somesuch. Sonically, it’s so rough, and the layers of orchestration and bells and drums all sound so mono that it’s easy to forget the song isn’t just a girl and her acoustic guitar. It’s all beautifully constructed though, down to that slapped timpani in the chorus.

Michaelangelo Matos: Skiffle is back!

Martin Skidmore: Her voice is thin, but in a cutely endearing way, fitting with the rather low-budget feel of the music, which chugs along with some amateurish backing vocals, probably also by Cathy I think. It clicks into a fairly strong song at times, and I rather like it.

Jonathan Bogart: Jauntiness is an underappreciated tool in the pop (folk-pop division) kit, but pairing it with an edge of menace and strong singing in a distinctive voice is the way to my heart.

Alex Macpherson: Threatens tweeness, saved by a surprisingly muscular groove and a voice just on the acceptable side of little-girlish.

2 Responses to “AMNESTY WEEK 2K10: Cathy Davey – Little Red”

  1. Linked to the same interview twice. The HTML, I am strong with it. It’s a good interview though.

    Also: she’s got plenty of songs as good as “Clean and Neat”! On singles alone, the first four tracks off Silversleeve qualify. “Cloud Seekers” by Autamata, if you want to count that, which I do.

  2. For the interested, I wrote up the album on my Tumblr; – not sure of direct URL. My favorite Irish album of the year, definitely, which isn’t as consolation as it sounds.