Take a bit of ska, a pinch of funk, a few hints of funk, a cup of reggae, a teaspoon of rap, and a tablespoon or two of jazz toss it in the blender, set it to puree... and you'll get The Cat Empire.
The band is comprised of Felix Reibl (percussion & vocals), Harry James Angus (trumpet & vocals), Ollie McGill (keyboard & backing vocals), Will Hull-Brown (drums), & Jamshid "Jumps" Khadiwhala (decks & percussion). The band is often backed by the brass trio, The Empire Horns (Kieran Conrau/trombone, Ross Irwin/trumpet flugelhorn & backing vocals, & Carlo Barbaro/tenor sax).
As a lover of horns, I'm especially pleased that The Cat Empire does not skimp on the horns when the songs warrant a good solid wall of brass but also know when to show restraint when the material doesn't warrant any brass.
One might not expect such an eclectic mix of different styles would mix well, but The Cat Empire mixes various different genres with a deft skill that speaks volumes to their musical talent and overall creativity.
Their 2003 debut album starts out with a festive, catchy bang with How to Explain which remains a staple of their live shows to this day. Days Like These is a catchy fun romp as well, although not quite as fun as How to Explain.
The album picks up speed again with The Chariot with catchy, upbeat lyrics and an infectuous beat that is near impossible to avoid dancing to. The band would re-visit this song with a slightly different arrangement on their 2nd album, Two Shoes, but this version has a catchier groove than the more recent updated 2005 arrangement.
The lyrics are at times at empowering and other times downright amusing:
And my knees were shakingAfter The Rhythm the album downshifts and borrows more from the band's jazz influences. The material is no less enjoyable and it puts on display the full breadth of their musical talents.
And my jaw was dropping
And my eyes were squinting
And my smile was growing
And my pants were bulging
And my hands were sweating
And my chest was beating
So I cry 'excuse me,
What is the secret to your song?'
Cause when you're walking along
When you're walking along:
Your legs are a melody my hands
Would like to play
And your hips are a note
That does take me away
And your face and your eyes and your hair
And your waist and your smile
Drive me to distraction - excerpt from The Rhythm
While The Cat Empire has released several more exceptional albums, and their 2005 follow-up Two Shoes is easily superior to this debut. The album is the best place to start as it whets the appetite for the even better music that was yet to come.
Related media & Links
How to Explain video
The Rhythm video
The Chariot video
Days Like These video
The Cat Empire (official website)
The Cat Empire (wikipedia)
The Cat Empire (CD) (wikipedia)
Felix Reibl (wikipedia)
Harry James Angus (wikipedia)
Ollie McGill (wikipedia)