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#albumoftheday / FEATURE REVIEW: KITTEN: LIKE A STRANGER

Kitten’s charming frontwoman Chloe Chaidez grew up in a musical household. Her father was a drummer from LA’s early punk scene and he introduced her to artists like David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and Mott The Hoople during their long drives to her gymnastics classes when she was just a kid. They spent an hour and a half on the road five days a week, so they had plenty of time to bond over the greats. They listened to newer music, too, playing the CDs that came with the magazine CMJ and discovering artists like Sigur Rós and Band of Horses. By the time Chloe was 10, she had already begun playing bass and formed her own band. By 12, she was actually opening for Band of Horses and other indie artists like Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Midlake. While songwriting with her manager and mentor Chad Anderson, Chloe was able to determine what direction she wanted to go in, carving out her now signature sound. It’s a refined blend of several different genres and eras including late ’70s post punk and British new wave.

It’s hard to believe, but Chloe was just 15 and in high school when Kitten self-released their debut E.P. in 2010. Their brand new release Like A Stranger is the band’s third E.P. — following last year’s Cut It Out — and it’s a hint of what’s to come on their full-length debut next year. Chloe is now 18 and the band has opened for quite a few heavy-hitters, including Paramore and No Doubt. They’ve also hit the festival circuit hard, playing SXSW, Jubilee, Edgefest, Riot Fest and Middle of the Map Festival, among others. These live performances, along with their pristine E.P.s, have garnered them heaps of praise by several major magazines and websites including Rolling Stone, NYLON, Interview, Teen Vogue, Vice and Spin.

Truth be told, Kitten has gone through some line-up changes during the past few years, including the departure of drummer Max Kuehn and bassist Zach Carper, who left to focus on their other band, FIDLAR. But the band’s line-up today is arguably its strongest, if the material on their Like A Stranger is any indication. They are: Chloe on vocals, Waylon Rector on guitars, Lukas Frank on drums, Bryan DeLeon on keyboards and Zach Bilson on bass.

PHOTO: KAITLIN CHRISTY

PHOTO: KAITLIN CHRISTY

Like A Stranger opens with the delicious title track, which is a perfect combination of ’80’s Madonna hooks and ’80’s Depeche Mode electro-techno beats. Suffice to say it has a distinct retro vibe, but it still manages to feel new and exciting. You feel a very modern sense of urgency to the way the guys play their instruments. It’s as though the world is about to end and they’re playing one last song and they’re doing it a little faster than usual to make sure they’re able to finish it before the world is no more. And yet Chloe doesn’t sound frenzied at all. On the contrary, she sounds calm, cool and collected. “I’m gonna find someone to love me / for who I am, a perfect star,” she sings at the beginning of the song, so you could also say that she’s confident. And that confidence is intriguing. You don’t get that from most 18 year olds who front bands. Sure, you have your cocky sons of bitches who actually have too much confidence, but there are few people who can be confident and laid-back in the way that Chloe seems to be here. It also must be said that Chloe is quite the temptress, singing most of the song in a very sultry manner, particularly the alluring chorus: “Will they still love you when you kiss the flame / Take you to the border in the ocean rain / Turn into the fire but you know it hurts / I’ll be your baby I’ll say anything / Just love me like a stranger.”

We hear a different side of Chloe during the very next track, “Yesterday (What’s Love),” which finds her sounding anxious if not entirely unhinged. It seems she’s capable of transforming into whatever the song requires. “Honey is this truth or is it people talking / Lately it seems it’s too much for me to be here / You got me bare and you lost your grip / Are you reasons fair,” she sings during one of the verses evoking Fiona Apple in angry mode. Musically, Bryan paints a bleak but intoxicating picture with dark, almost ominous, synth. Waylon’s guitars sound a bit jittery, too, helping to establish the mood. As for the beats, they’re rather retro-flavored, calling to mind Prince circa 1999. You’ll probably think of his “Little Red Corvette” the first time you hear this one. But this is much darker, a display of raw emotion.

Things brighten up considerably during “I’ll Be Your Girl,” which has a more modern, snappy beat along with waves of bright, Pet Shop Boys-esque synth. The guitars and bass play a more prominent role here, helping to establish this as a solid pop number. Here, Chloe’s vocals are like a combination of the styles she used during the first two tracks. There’s a sexual element to the song, but it’s also from the perspective of someone who’s pledging her love to someone, apparently not knowing if they actually want her. The last thing she sings: “Whatever you want me / that is what I’ll be / I’ll be your girl.”

“Doubt” opens with a flurry of percussive sounds clattering and pounding away, giving it an old school industrial music vibe. It’s like a cross between ’80’s Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. But that’s just the intro. While most of those sounds continue as the other instruments kick in, they’re not quite so boisterous and another, pop-minded beat is introduced and takes over. It’s something of gloomy pop song though. Here, Chloe calls to mind Garbage’s Shirley Manson as she sings with conviction: “I saw the light / And maybe that’s the truth / I’ve got 16 years / The eloquence of youth / I’ve got you dead to rights / That’s the meaning of love / These are the tears I cry / Until my baby comes.”

PHOTO: KAITLIN CHRISTY

PHOTO: KAITLIN CHRISTY

Chloe sounds like a woman conflicted during “Graffiti Soul.” Here, she’s like a fired-up Debbie Harry. “Never again last night I dreamt you on distant shore / Halfway to London before your shadow leaves my door / Forgive and forget me / What difference does it make,” she sings, clearly disappointed by whomever the song is about. And you wouldn’t want to be that guy. Listening to these lyrics, you would not want to cross her. She’s downright vengeful as she sings about her lover sleeping with her friend and otherwise treating her like shit. Musically, this song really differs from the previous tracks because the primary instruments would seem to be horns. I don’t know if they brought in people to actually play the horns, or if they programmed them, or if they used a synthesizer to produce them, but they shimmer and shine colorfully regardless. When you take the upbeat vibe of the music here into consideration, one gets the impression that this is ultimately a song about someone who’s empowered, who isn’t going to allow another to control her anymore.

Finally, we have the sonically adventurous, somewhat experimental, “King of Kings,” which is roughly six and a half minutes long. It starts off with Chloe almost whispering her vocals as the guys play at a much slower tempo than we’ve heard previously on the E.P. “I’m king of kings / I want everything / And I want it now,” she more or less coos while we hear lots of subtle, almost ambient sounds. During this early portion of the song it seems to split the difference between The Killers and Duran Duran. But, as it progresses, it grows more and more intense and adds many layers of fascinating and unexpected sounds, building into something truly epic. At that point it’s more like something Bono and The Edge would write for U2. You feel like you’re watching an artsy movie on the Sundance channel when you listen to this one. When it ends, it leaves you feeling triumphant.

Suffice to say that Like A Stranger is just about as flawless as they come. I can’t even begin to imagine how spectacular their full-length album is going to be next year. If there’s any justice in this world, Chloe will be the next Shirley Manson, or even Gwen Stefani. Her ability to be so dynamic is uncanny. She’s already a fucking rock star even if most of the world doesn’t know it yet. And that’s the funny thing about Kitten — they might play pop songs, but they’re a kick ass rock ‘n’ roll band at their core.

Kitten live at SXSW 2013:
Visit Kitten online:
Like A Stranger baby

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Written by

Paris365

An entertainment journalist for 20 years, Michael McCarthy was a columnist and contributing editor for the magazines Lollipop and LiveWire. He co-created and wrote for Cinezine, one of the '90's most popular movie E-zines. The only time he's not listening to music is when he's watching television shows and movies or reading, usually music magazines.

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