Boisterous Compositions, Bland Sound
After 2017’s Tripping None, and 2021’s Ridge Record, Poppy Patica comes back with their newest album, Black Cat Back Stage. Originally a solo endeavor, with vocalist and guitarist Peter Hartmann as the frontman and founder, Poppy Patica is currently also made up of vocalist and organist Chloe M, drummer and keyboardist Nikhil Rao and bassist Jeremy Ray.
“Awful Sound” is a quick and upbeat intro. Mildly deceiving the audience with its first two bars sounding like a plastic midi kick, “Awful Sound” turns into not such an awful sound with acoustic guitars filling up the space. The song is a prime example of great potential, great feeling and decent songwriting, but with an unsatisfactory mix. With a lot of elements panned to the right, the mix is left too light and thin in the left ear. The synths at times sound too plastic, but the instrumental arrangement manages to save it a bit.
“Handprint” begins with an eye catching bassline. The chorus is a great release after the verses, accompanied by clean electric guitars. The song talks about feeling like there’s much to see out in the world, but feeling comfortable and complacent in one’s home, or city. “I make a sound and it’s swallowed into a hole,” can be a metaphor for feeling like everything you do, can be meaningful to you but meaningless and unimportant to the rest of the world. “I take a stab at what I think is right, and then a bloody handprint on my door, and I don’t know where its from” can represent the consequences for actions that we think are good or harmless, and having to face them, and the pain that comes with them. “Handprint” is a letter to those feeling lost in their lives, with no clear path, not knowing what’s right or wrong for them, and acknowledging that sometimes its okay, because feeling lost is a part of finding oneself.
Starting with drums and synths, “Burn to Bits” is almost a ballad, but its not too sentimental or romantic at all. The mix is questionable, with the lead vocals panned to the right and almost inaudible on the left, leaving the backup vocals on the left only. Near the middle, it has a seemingly fake end, that enhances the second part of the song. Chloe M’s voice joins Peter Hartmann’s on the left on the last verse, but the timing is slightly off, making the sound feel uncoordinated. The song lands on the cliché of “I want to leave this town,” and simultaneously of “I miss my hometown,” too. It’s oddly domestic and confusing. However, if the listener focuses on the essence of the song, it could be a comforting song to listen to.
“Sweetest Song” is not too sweet. With enough changes to keep you on the edge of your seat, Poppy Patica stuns the listener with the track’s constant unpredictability. The song seems to have no chorus, but some lines that could have turned into one. “The worst thing you can do is not try,” seems like an oxymoron due to the lacking structure, and being all over the place.
“Top” is fun song to listen to, its short enough to not drone on too long. The second verse is the best part, and could be classified as a headbanger. The song could’ve been more interesting had it kept that direction and not deviated into different sounds for the last verse.
With an harsh and upfront kick-off, “Band Aid” seems to be a promising song in the beginning. Written by Chloe M instead, something different is expected, as its the only song written by someone other than Hartmann. “I’m going to end you,” is the first lyric and the most impactful. Even with some odd rhythms in the pre-chorus, this is the track with most structure yet, and an identifiable chorus. “Who’s gonna be your bandaid now?” is the song’s motif at the end, and a lyric that would sound great being shouted back by the audience during a live show.
“Mystery Meat” may not sound so great going off by the title alone. However, it is actually a decent track. Starting with electric guitars, which at this point aren’t too overwhelmingly panned to the right, compared to previous tracks. Not having an identifiable chorus is something that really stops the listener from buying it. “Mystery Meat” is a really cool, promising yarn sweater that you don’t wear anymore, because every time you do, two rows of stitches come undone.
“Demolition Order” is the first song to start with a heavier mix on the left rather than the right. Although the bassline is not bad by any means, it’s easy to wonder about the mixing engineer’s creative choices. The toms on the percussion set are enjoyable to listen to, and really help the song. “Demolition Order” seems to be an inspirational song, and all the mentions about “the city” really give it a cinematic, soundtrack feel. There are some parts of the song which should have either had more vocal takes, or been edited better, as the takes selected make the vocalist sound unsure of the performance. As the song comes to its end, the title becomes a clear representation of how the song falls apart. Something about the end feels very off-beat, off-rhythm and very off-tune.
“Sink” begins with some alliteration as a nice literary device. “You always seem so sad to see the sun sideways” rolls off the tongue nicely. “Sink” has a more balanced mix than previous songs, a refreshing change in quality considering most of the past tracks. The lyrics are odd but not low quality, a lot of alliteration being sprinkled throughout the verses keep it entertaining. It is hard to understand what the song talks about when the lyrics change theme every verse.
The album comes to an end with “Kiwi.” The guitar placement is inconsistent, peaking with it being hard panned to the left in the beginning of the track. After that, the guitars are all over the place, with highly questionable arrangements. The voice sounds out of tune in many parts, like the mixing engineer didn’t seem to tune it. A lot of new instruments being added in feels mindless, serving as sound effects instead of actual instruments with a purpose in the song. Every time tambourine comes in, it sticks out like a sore thumb, with only its last appearance being cohesive. It’s very inconsistent, with small excerpts of time where it sounds like a cohesive song, before slipping into disorganized chaos on the next measure.
Black Cat Back Stage is an interesting album. Reduced to their essence, some are quality songs, with nice arrangements and composition. However, for the album as a whole, the mixing really throws the listener off. The constant lack of structure and musical changes that come out of the left field leave a lot to desire. Throughout the album, prominently the first half, the right side of the mix is constantly heavier. Thus, what could have been a decent experimental album became a hard listen.