On her first release of entirely original material in six years, Georgia native Cat Power (née Charlyn Marshall) leaps back into the scene with an album that barrels boldly ahead. Sun is at once new, striking and familiar. While the album delves into electronics and rock ‘n’ roll, it retains the intense emotion and careful songwriting Cat Power mastered on The Greatest and You Are Free.
After eight albums, it can be difficult for musicians to find a way to keep developing and growing their sound without rehashing the same musical and stylistic tropes. But Sun serves as an exemplary lesson for how to do this, and how to do it right. The songs on the album are electronic–there’s synths, big guitar riffs, drum machines–almost all of which Cat Power played and produced herself. Sun takes the beautiful compositions of her previous albums and infuses them with danceable hooks and slick synths. “Ruin,” the album’s first (and already successful) single, is by far the strongest and best moment. A bright, catchy piano melody provides a rich backbone, trading off between treble and bass above the edgy, driving percussion. It has a cosmopolitan feel. Lyrically, Cat Power circumnavigates the globe, running from South America to Britain in a snappy stanza. This is Cat Power you can dance to, and she manages to pull it off without falling into the hackneyed kind of dance-pop songs overflowing the airwaves.
What makes Sun successful is, in large part, its composition. Cat Power weaves layers of vocal harmonies, piano, guitar and synth melodies together in complex tapestries of sound, like on the lush, dark “Cherokee” and “3,6,9,” where so many smoky vocal lines overlap that Marshall sounds like her own chorus. On the lo-fi, western tumbleweed-blues song “Human Being” and the spacious “Manhattan,” Cat Power shows how her songwriting sensibilities internalized electronic music, blending it with her older folksy, indie-rock style.
While this new direction doesn’t always work (i.e. the cliche “Real Life” or “Nothin’ But Time”), Cat Power comes back on Sun with a sound that’s powerful and strong, cool and self-possessed, confident and slick like the sinuous movements of the feline from which she draws her name.