I mean just LOOK at Rob Schnapf’s picture on Wikipedia. It is not something that can be explained away with words.
Rob Schnapf, obvious from his professional countenance of a sort of cosmic absorption in his surroundings, is not an “individual” who can be explained in terms of all this interchangeable political bullsh** we keep hearing nowadays. Likely reclusive, Schanpf is a seasoned record producer with the three best Elliott Smith albums under his belt, at work on Cat Power’s new album Wanderer which, amazingly, considering the way it sounds to MY amateur ears, Matador actually rejected, according to Wikipedia. Apparently, as with on what I thought was a very style-over-substance type of effort Sun, they voiced the concern that “We need hits.” Hmm, this is the label that houses Iceage, isn’t it? What a puzzling circumstance.
So Rob Schnapf, old, grizzled non-judgmental uncle also apparently responsible for Beck’s “Loser,” a tune you might have heard at some point, takes storied, persecuted femme vocale under his wing and just lets her do her thing: “’Her eyes would roll and she’d just channel and go,’” Schapf there giving an exact visual detailed account of the phenomenological process at work in the artist. Well, yeah… that’s how music SHOULD be: there’s a process to it, and it’s personal, and it comes at some sacrifice, some “wandering” onto a better record label and a better recording situation. And oddly, Domino is actually a better label, fiduciarily speaking, than Matador, which is nothing if not ironic.
From the one-minute, 14-second title track, I knew I was not in Wanderer dealing with anything like a “mainstream pop” record, which again, is apparently what Matador wanted, the label that once put out Liz Phair’s “Flower,” at least I THINK. I must admit, at VERY first listen I didn’t really care for the title track leadoff because it was just SO simple, residing on a stately and conventional chord progression and utilizing Chan Marshall’s same old damaged croon we’ve imbibed so copiously over the years, albeit over some beautiful theremin that mimics hymnal vocals, in the background.
But it’s the PURPOSE. It’s how the song doesn’t devolve into like a sax solo or anything like that: Marshall persists with her personal, firsthand vocals the whole song through, and like a stubborn and persistent dog, wins her way into your heart by being undeniably driven.
Then, as far as the rest of the songs on this album stack up, it’s basically classic after classic, the track sequencing even offering fresh undulations from indie folk to gentle but assertive indie rock, Schapf apparently providing drum work on “You Get.” “In Your Face” is a celestial, quintessentially Cat Power number (I mean what genre IS this, anyway…) with deliberate rhythm guitar and these gorgeous piano kisses sprinkled throughout the whole thing. “Woman” is a beautiful Lana Del Rey duet but the centerpiece might be “Horizon,” apparently a love song to another woman wherein Marshall asks “Can I have this dance?” over the sort of lounge, vaudeville Cat Power vocal virtuosity it seems like she’s been waiting her whole career to make. Soft, pristine background vocals cloak the mix here stylishly and Marshall just wallows in the magical realm her voice gets in where she sounds sort of half-crying, half-overjoyed, coaching herself in disciplined focus, then, through this perfectly structured and plotted paean.
Side B settles sternly into the sort of leagues-deep melancholy which graced 2003’s You Are Free and The Greatest and interestingly “Black” even has a way of rhythmically aping on acoustic guitar the little piano run she set down on the The Greatest track “Hate” and also a little like “Maybe Not” on the prior album which gave us the calling card “We can all be free”. On “Black,” the lyrics seem more personal but also more Cubist and abstract, as if Marshall has fully honed her artistic knack for rendering lyrics as something light and which compliment the music itself (which is already very light, to her credit), instead of bogging the listener down with ham-handed, excessively narrative humanism.
Oh… and here we go… Cat Power’s got a song called “Nothing Really Matters.” I knew I was gonna get hit with a bath of liquid nitrogen at some point. Ok, my heart is still kind of intact, although here comes that piano which VERY much apes “Hate” and “Maybe Not,” two of the most depressing songs ever put to wax. And here’s her voice again which again kind of sounds like she’s about to cry… ok, I can do this… well, I guess I’ve got winter coming up and this could be good falling-asleep music on those cold, dark nights. One thing is clear, anyway: Marshall has gotten the shackles of corporate ambition off… nobody is now asking her to write a HIT SINGLE, a mortal crime in my opinion in the case of the scribe behind dark dirges like “Cross Bones Style” and “Babydoll.” She was always at her most exciting when least approachable.