Cat Power’s new album Wanderer is brilliant harmonization of weird, beautiful

Liliana Hall

After six years of radio silence from singer-songwriter Chan Marshall, better known by her stage name Cat Power, she explores the different realms of sounds and moods through her 10th studio album Wanderer.

Originally discovered by Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley and Two Dollar Guitar’s Tim Foljahn, Marshall went on to record her first two albums, Dear Sir and Myra Lee with the two in 1995 and 1996, respectively. In 1996, she signed with Matador Records and quickly released a third album with Shelley and Foljahn entitled What Would the Community Think.

The constant evolution of Marshall’s sound earned her acclaim for her ability to pin down just about anything. From soul-influenced “The Greatest” in 2006 to her many cover tracks, “The Covers Record” and “Jukebox,” and the self-incorporated electronica tracks featured in her 2012 album Sun that landed her a number 10 spot on the Billboard 200.

Marshall has played with a mix of punk, folk, soul and blues over the course of her career and brilliantly revisits all of these styles in her new album. Wanderer demonstrates the line between Marshall’s childhood growing up in the South and her life as a musician in adulthood with an eccentric mix-use of guitar, piano and vocals.

The opening title track “Wanderer,” highlights the raspy tone heard in Marshall’s early works such as “The Greatest.” A transition featured with hand-slapped percussion, “In Your Face” addresses the political landscape, diverging from Marshall’s own personal narrative. Marshall usually avoids getting political in her music, but she finds a way to naturally express her distaste for the divisive culture found in the current political climate.

Marshall doesn’t stop there. She also includes guest harmonies by Lana Del Rey on the album. Their collaboration “Woman” is truly the peak of the album due to the luminous confidence the two women share on the track. With Del Rey providing backup vocals, the chorus is simply “I’m a woman” but takes the album to another place — one of power and influence. The two have a way of stopping time through their harmonizing vocals that perfectly blend, almost limiting listeners’ ability to tell the difference between the two.

Mid-album, Marshall has a cover of Rihanna’s 2012 hit “Stay,” which is entirely recognizable but places pauses in dissimilar places. She organizes the lyrics out of order from the original track and underplays the cover by utilizing classic harmonization of a piano.

“Black” is arguably the most riveting track on the album, as the intro fades in with rambling words as if Marshall is contemplating the story as she iterates its meaning. “Black” is the story of a dead friend, who once revived Marshall with an “ice bath and a slap.” It is a repetitive short story that could conclude the album with its synchronizing tale.

As the album concludes, “Nothing Really Matters” presents the disconnect between what matters to her and what matters to everyone else, utilizing a unique combination of a tambourine and a guitar fluttering in the background.

Wanderer combines some of the best sounds brought to life by Cat Power over the years, incorporating short personal narratives and harmonies mirrored by famous counterparts such as Lana Del Rey and Rihanna. It is a beautifully transparent album delving into the many pleasures that have helped establish Marshall’s musicality over the years.


9 out of 10