Posted on August 8th, 2015 (12:00 pm) by Michael Negron

One of our reviewers here – who, exactly, I won't say – was originally slated to review this album. The reviewer in question picked it because s/he thought, much in the same way I thought prior to my first listen, that Black Cat was going to be just another "lol so random" indie-twee-electro-Starbucks-pop release, the kind that everyone thought died off a long time ago. That reviewer later changed their mind on covering the album, and I suspect an overdose of Pepe meme advertising on Facebook had something to do with it. What little I've paid attention to bandleader (and occasional one-man-band) Christofer Drew since 2009 has mostly been presented as a pedigree of putting out too much material with too little quality control – and I'm not just talking about Never Shout Never. As you can tell by my snide tone, I was expecting a disaster, as were others. So I think I speak for everyone at IYS when I say:

I'm sorry Never Shout Never

It's said the best way to silence your critics is to succeed in spite of them, and it's clear that's the approach Never Shout Never have taken. Whether by a slow growth process, some miraculous revelation, or simply taking a full two years to get it right, Black Cat is by far the strongest Never Shout Never release to date, planting them firmly in the best of the current indie rock scene, jaded as it may be, without giving up an ounce of their enthusiasm. It's so good, in fact, we'll let the X-Mas CD slide.

Black Cat isn't fundamentally different in tone and structure from many previous Never Shout Never releases. It's still that brand of summery pop that evokes feelings of blindingly naïve bliss. Consequently, it's little surprise that much of the lyricism appears at first to be thoughtless, banal, or the kind of life-affirming aphorisms that are marketed through self-aware teens in picturesque, yet "relatable" coming-of-age dramas (think Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Fault In Our Stars, and repeat ad nauseum). The first track, "Hey! We Ok," isn't exactly subtle about its simplicity, and has a tendency to over-use "fuck" to get a point across. But rather than passing off vagueness as poetry or being edgy because you don't know how to be anything else, "Hey! We Ok," is actually identity-affirming, in the sense that Never Shout Never already knows who they are and aren't going to change that.

It's also kind of a fake out, not only lyrically but also instrumentally, the album expanding thereafter to include a variety of tones: frequently flirting with rock, other times allowing electronic textures to wash over, and, of course, occasionally incorporating the ukulele. There are rarely drastic changes, more often than not one song becoming an extension of another, highlighting an element not quite as prominent in the track preceding it, but there are two very dramatic shifts that are likely to be polarizing; the title track evokes the mysticism of 80s prog rock – despite not falling into that category by any stretch of the imagination – and definitively quashes the idea that Drew & Co. are a one-trick pony. "BOOM!" is less effective, but it's definitely an issue of taste; at the very least, it's a catchy song, if catchy in a way that might annoy curmudgeons (i.e. filtered vocal effects that would make Julian Casablancas blush along with white boy scat singing).

If you want to nitpick Black Cat, you can. It's not hard to find small flaws or obnoxious quirks in the record, but then you can say that about any record. For some of us, it might be hard to earnestly approach an album with lines like "Sunshine is my sky," but in taking Black Cat seriously – and doing so only when it wants to be taken seriously – it might just defy all your expectations.

Track List:

  1. Hey! We Ok
  2. Fone Tag
  3. Red Balloon
  4. Happy New Year
  5. Awkward Conversations (Best Day)
  6. Black Cat
  7. Peace Song
  8. WooHoo
  9. BOOM!
  10. All Is Love
Never Shout Never - Black Cat
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

70 / 100
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