Release Date: Jun 3, 2016
Record label: Raf
In a time of hyper accelerated technology, an increasingly borderless consumption of art that negates subculture and in the context of an EDM dominated pop music scene, it is no surprise that there are some who instead look to the past for inspiration. Cat’s Eyes- aka Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan- are a band who seem to happily wear their bygone proclivities on their leather sleeves and in doing so, have gained a quietly devoted following. Treasure House marks the third record- though technically only their second full length- from the duo following their effortlessly divine soundtrack last year to arthouse S&M drama The Duke of Burgundy and it’s time to see if the spark remains.
Given their flair for moody, artfully composed pop, it's no surprise that Cat's Eyes detoured into score work between Treasure House and their self-titled debut. Their music for Peter Strickland's eerily erotic The Duke of Burgundy was rightfully acclaimed, so much so that it may have put Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan on the map more than Cat's Eyes did. The Duke of Burgundy's influence lingers on Treasure House's beautiful production and arrangements, which use their classical leanings in more traditional and more experimental ways with equal flair.
Few side projects turn out as well as Cat’s Eyes, a bit of extracurricular fun for Horrors frontman Faris Badwan and Italian-Canadian soprano Rachel Zeffira, which has so far delivered two swooningly lovely records and a pair of guerrilla gigs in the Vatican and Buckingham Palace. The musical chemistry is undiminished on their third album where a languid kind of heartache holds sway. Their vocals drift over lush orchestral arrangements and twine elegantly on the stately sadness of We’ll Be Waiting.
The question of which Harry Potter house Faris Badwan and partner-in-crime Rachel Zeffira would belong to has been circling around this reviewer’s head for about twenty minutes, dear reader, as both intro number and title track ‘Treasure House’ and the twinkly ‘Everything Moves Towards The Sun’ have us thinking of Hogwarts (it’s probably hints of the pair’s recent foray in to film soundtracks combined with our terrible IMDB view count, tbh). ‘Treasure House’ is - as the name suggests - a luscious, rich selection of otherworldly tracks, disparate in nature but still oddly cohesive. And it’s as timeless as that dreamy world JK Rowling created.
As is custom with duos, Cat’s Eyes relies on its members’ opposing forces: Rachel Zeffira, a Canadian soprano, composer and multi-instrumentalist who summons celestial delicacy from every song, manages to smoothe out the barbed post-punk tendencies of Horrors frontman Faris Badwan. On their second album proper – if you discount their Ivor-nominated soundtrack to the Peter Strickland film The Duke of Burgundy – their sound has expanded, taking in widescreen compositions full of Disney romanticism (Treasure House), Ennio Morricone-inspired soundcsapes (Girl in the Room), spooky neo-noir atmospherics (Everything Moves Towards the Sun) and a moment of reverb-drenched surf rock guitar that would make Tarantino giddy (Be Careful Where You Park Your Car). What is most intriguing is their bond; particularly during the sinister love affair of Drag – “the things we do when we’re together, if they only knew they would keep us apart” – a jarring narrative that’s more gruesome horror than gooey romcom.
Rachel Zaffira and The Horrors’ Faris Badwan are clearly scholars of a school of pop located just outside the mainstream. They tackle everything from embittered 60s girl pop to dislocated singer-songwriter monologues on their third album, and 90 per cent of the time the results are spellbinding. There remain traces of Badwan’s primary gang but again, they take a backseat.
The otherworldly duo of Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira, also known as Cat's Eyes, have returned with their second album. Their sound continues to be influenced by Zeffira's background as a classical musician, but on Treasure House, it's fused with the influence of '60s girl groups, particularly on the dramatic "Drag. " There are jauntier numbers on this record than on their debut, such as "Be Careful Where You Park Your Car," whose surf rock guitar expands the duo's sonic palette even further.
Lush '60s pop, running almost the full spectrum of all that phrase conjures up. The opening trio of songs really go for the orchestral, baroque side of the era, gliding and swaying through chimerical landscapes. "Be Careful Where You Park Your Car" veers off into a gritty girl group stomp-infectious, sure to get you up and dancing, the lyrics also doing a fine job of mimicking the source material.
Cat’s Eyes are made up of Canadian composure and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zaffira and Faris Badwan, him from the Horrors. They make the kind of music that takes the best bits of Sixties pop and avant-garde to create luscious soundscapes with lurid subject matter. But instead of sounding like a vanity project, it comes across as a fully formed project.
When your band's first gig ever happens to be at the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica, having managed to convince security of your catholic choir credentials, performing a psalm-like rendition of a song of yours accompanied by the church's majestic organ, odds are high that this will inform the narrative of your entire musical career. That it will push you to raise the bar a little more for each subsequent release.