Every Friday (and before that, every Tuesday, RIP “New Music Tuesday”), dozens upon dozens of albums hit the shelves, the digital store queues, and the lesser noticed corners of the internet. PR people fight for their artists, working to get a specific message to stick out on top. inboxes get flooded and writers have to sift through it all, carefully discerning what music makes the most impact above the noise of the masses. Sometimes things come through like a light in long dark hallway of emails and other times, a piece of work catches one’s ear somewhat out of the blue and the time from discovery to reaction is short and sweet.
This is one of those times.
While Feral Five are not a new group (they carry a feather of praise from the likes of BBC6) , and MAN CAT DOLL MACHINE (Primitive Light Recordings, 2017) is not its first release, the duo of Kat Five (Vocals, Guitar, Percussion) and Drew Five (Bass, Synths), have managed to position their newest EP release in a place of definitive singularity. The explanation for such individualism: creating music that used Picasso portraits as the sole source of inspiration. Now, any song – commissioned, designed, or just created in impromptu solitude – is subject to interpretation after it’s finished. That’s just the nature of others hearing one’s work. Then however, to add a second layer of interpretation on top of the music itself, by having the writers and performers interpret another piece of art – and in another medium to boot – creates an environment screaming for deep exploration at the most, and inspiring intrigue enough to listen, at the very least.
A few months back, at the end of January, Feral Five were tapped by musician and multi-faceted music industry veteran, Martyn Ware (The Human League, Heaven 17), to write music that was inspired by the art on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England, for a special exhibit called, “Late Shift Extra: Everything You Can Imagine is Real.” Ware contacted not only Feral Five, but also visual, dance, and poetical artists to come up with interpretive works as well. The proposal and evening’s endeavor culminated in Feral Five writing four new songs, which have since become MAN CAT DOLL MACHINE. Though it might seem like those not present at the night’s event or those incapable of visiting the exhibit would be at a disadvantage in a listening experience, such rings untrue. Check out the full EP in the SoundCloud stream below.
Streaming through, even if one were to do so without reading into the thematic lines of the exhibition, the EP steadily reveals plenty of instrumental and stylistic cohesion that is right in line with Feral Five’s established electronic and post-punk based foundations heard on previous release Rule 9 (Primitive Light Recordings, 2016). Mixes of drum machine downbeats and 808 hand claps placed at the very front of three of the four tracks, push each forward with an unwavering assertion of rhythm and establishment of brisk tempo. Then, further reiterating that there’s never a doubt Feral Five thrive in the digital space, synthesizer tones of all textures – from wide and rumbling (“Man Cat Doll Machine”), to smooth and laser-like (“Cat”), and starkly contrasting with crackling and jagged (“Desire”) – provide a sonic element that is both consistent and entirely transformative across the whole record. The character of each chose tone sensibly changes depending on what kind of physical impact and emotional framework Kat and Drew wish to make and convey to listeners.
Kat’s Blondie-style like vocal also undergoes some variation through the EP; especially where her own enunciation (or conscious reduction thereof) in delivery of lyrics is concerned. Generally speaking however, Kat retains a heavily filtered and manipulated effect audible from start to finish. A widening of her sung words, achieved through long release and delay times, adds a subtle support to the idea of abstract and ethereal, even if the instrumentation contrasts with the injection of sonic exactness, which could be said correlates to the thought of abstract portraits not displaying an image of absolute clarity but nevertheless intent on depicting a specific and exact individual – in this case, Picasso.
Drew’s thoughtful application of various beats, tones, and the interlacing thereof isn’t to go unacknowledged as well. Penultimate track, “Doll,” kicks off making this very point of stand out quality. A quiet kick drum beat played in a rapid syncopation almost akin to a heartbeat, runs underneath lower octave crackling bit-like tones, followed by more melodic electronic string-esque tones briefly revolving in and out. Add in a pattern of gentle cymbal hits and single claps, and the resulting delicate minor key melody encapsulates a quality entirely appropriate for something dark and prompting of adrenaline, like the trailer for “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “Gone Girl,” or even the newer release, “Girl on the Train” (and this without even delving into the utterly thought-provoking and metaphoric lyrics that follow, making it notable track among the four). All that evocation in under a 30 second window makes the artistry in Feral Five’s use of electronics absolutely undeniable.
The ideal experience would of course involve getting to experience the music and Feral Five’s performance first hand, which, for those on the non-U.S. Side of the pond, is an opportunity not far off in the future. Yet regardless of whether a bus, tube, or plane ride feasible to attend, MAN CAT DOLL MACHINE is a work of shrewd blending, thoughtful contemplation, and serious analogy that manages to keep a degree of everyday fun and club-ready excitement in its back pocket for enjoyment through deep listening or just rocking the hell out with the speakers cranked up.
MAN CAT DOLL MACHINE is available to stream now via SoundCloud. A formal release party is taking place In London on 25 March 2017. Full show details are below: