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Cashmere Cat - Princess Catgirl Music Album Reviews

The Norwegian producer invents a Vocaloid-inspired feline character and retreats from the spotlit pop of his last album, returning to the introspective hush of his earlier work.
After all these years, Cashmere Cat is still shy. The musician born Magnus August Høiberg has nearly a decade of prismatic productions under his belt, which has led to appearances on the big stages at EDM festivals, collaborations with childhood heroes, and studio time with the biggest pop stars in the world. On some level, Høiberg has had to adjust to the practicalities that this success requires. He once wouldn’t even do in-person interviews, but a few years ago he finally decided to open up about his life story in a music video. One would imagine he’s no longer hiding in a bathroom, as a friend of his once described, when DJ Khaled unexpectedly turns up at the studio.

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Joan Shelley - Like the River Loves the Sea Music Album Reviews

The Kentucky folksinger’s fifth solo album strips down to acoustic instrumentation and her softly luminous voice, carving out a refuge where love and nature find solace in each other.

The fifth solo album from Joan Shelley, the Kentucky folk singer-songwriter, arrives with the promise of sanctuary. Like the River Loves the Sea is a 12-track dispatch from a carefully cultivated microclimate in which the worlds of nature and love coexist and co-depend, each offered a fighting chance to blossom away from the persistent clamor of the everyday. On paper, perhaps, it reads like a retreat. (Shelley calls it “a haven for overstimulated heads in uncertain times.”) In practice, it sounds like a bolstering of defenses—strong and unapologetic.

Over the past five years, Shelley has subjected her music to a process of rewilding. The noisier post-rock terrain of earlier albums, notably Electric Ursa, has been grassed over to create something naturalistic and unadorned. Aided by her core collaborators, James Elkington and Nathan Salsburg, she has pared down her songs to the base elements of acoustic instrumentation and her softly luminous voice: cool, unshowy, conversational. Now and then there are drums, marking time rather than disturbing it.

Yet with each step she adds a new flavor. On her last album, 2017’s Joan Shelley, the surprise ingredient turned out to be a wholesome pinch of Jeff Tweedy, who added bass and guitar and produced Shelley at his Loft studio in Chicago. This time Shelley and her bandmates recorded in Reykjavik, and although the sound is fashioned from an intricate blend of guitar, piano, and keyboard, the emphasis has changed once again, primarily due to the violin and cello orchestrations of Icelandic sisters Þórdís Gerður Jónsdóttir and Sigrún Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir. Their contributions lend these songs their wings. On “Cycle” and “Stay All Night,” the tensile shimmer recalls the high-wire tumble of strings at the climax of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.”

Large parts of the album are almost overwhelmingly beautiful. On “Teal” and “High on the Mountain,” the melodies tumble down like mountain water, at once fresh and familiar. These are summery, late-1960s folk-pop songs left to meander in the meadows. Other tracks are tougher than tree trunks. “Coming Down for You,” a rigid, crackling, minor-key bluegrass tune with vocals shared between Shelley and her fellow Kentuckian Will Oldham, firmly rebuffs any whiff of the bucolic.

On a record where the smallest movements matter, both musically and lyrically, Shelley proves hyper-attuned to the twitch of the moment. On “Teal,” she recalls the instant when “the bones of my neck lifted.” On “When What It Is,” a distant rattle of harmonium somehow conjures the precarious nature of commitment. Several songs track shifting romantic fortunes via the changing seasons, recognizing that change is hard-wired. “The Fading,” where she is again joined by Oldham, links broken-down love to the inevitable churn of harrow and harvest, drought and flood. On “The Sway”—a sepia country-blues, reminiscent of Cowboy Junkies—fences fall and rivers turn to mud, just as the many forms of love investigated here are similarly buffeted by outside forces. All that’s left to hold on to is the certainty that what has changed now will in time change again.

In the flux, coupling becomes a matter of sacred communion. On “High on the Mountain,” Shelley recalls a time “when the bed wasn’t mine but ours.” On “The Fading,” the outline of a lover’s form remains after they are gone, both comfort and curse. “Tell Me Something” makes explicit the raw carnality underpinning many of these songs: “Take me to the bed, shake me to my knees,” she sings, as a lone viola slices through the pheromones, “where I can find a piece of you, and you can have a piece of me.”

There are other moments where the animating spark is less present, when the simple nursery-rhyme cadences of Shelley’s melodies feel a little too homespun. “Awake” is almost cutesy, “Any Day Now” a routine jog. Mostly, Like the River Loves the Sea succeeds in elevating Shelley’s ruminations on “the ground I am bound to” and “the tender things around me” to matters of universal resonance.

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