When Chan Marshall begins the title track of her new album by oozing out a wraith-like cry of “Here comes/Here comes/Here comes the sun,” she’s as far from George Harrison as you can get. Staggering electronics color the expansive “Sun,” a song that wouldn’t be out of place blaring overhead during laser tag.
Clearly, this is not the Cat Power you’ve come to expect. Gone are the woozy chimes of “Sea of Love,” the somber beauty of “The Greatest,” the organic pulse of the Jukebox album. On Sun, Marshall’s ninth full-length studio album under the Cat Power moniker, the songwriting is just as dense, but her approach has taken a turn toward ethereal, rhythmic brooding.
Indeed, the robotic call of the circuit lurks behind some of Sun’s most poignant tracks. “Real Life” infuses ambient and house with pure sexual energy, an injection courtesy of Cassius’s Philippe Zdar, who mixed the album. “Human Being” throbs along via a rusty guitar line. Opener “Cherokee” sounds like The National remixed by a DJ.
That’s not to say Sun lacks spirit — the proof lies in the clap-ready soul of “3,6,9.” Big drums help fill the space between background vowel chants in that song and the next one, “Always On My Own,” a cavernous doldrums-inducing stomp. The schizophrenic back-beat of “Manhattan” helps punctuate the tune, a gorgeous speed bump on the road to its final act.
To recap, Sun treats you to both lush electronic dreams and melody-driven moody pop. “Nothin’ But Time” aims high and tries to be both — its two-chord propulsion blended with spacey synth noise and stammering drums. On a primarily downbeat album, a song like the mini-epic “Nothin’ But Time” feels like a grand opus, a twisted 21st century replaying of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (complete with backing vocals by Iggy Pop).
You can’t deny Chan Marshall’s firm grip on tonality and musicality. On Sun, she never tries to fly too close, keeping her respectable distance, though she’s earned a little more warmth than a host of current buzzbands who’ve yet to pay their dues. It takes balls to close out an album in 2012 with a chaotic “Kashmir”-esque jam decrying the current state of world affairs, but she hits the target with “Peace and Love.” After 20 years, she’s fucking earned it.
(Matador Records, 304 Hudson St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10013)