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Cat Five 

Kataphonics (Hip Hop Slam)

Wednesday, Nov 21 2001
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Recently, the British magazine The Face declared Oakland's Cat Five "the prime example of the Left Coast's laptop revolution," seemingly lumping the group in with the fractured techno of Sutekh and Safety Scissors and the kitschy glitches of Kid606 and his Tigerbeat6 label. But really, the only thing that Cat Five shares with its neighbors is its creative platform of choice, the iBook. On Cat Five's first LP, Kataphonics, the foursome -- Balanceman (beats, trumpet, production), Dr. Oliver (sample overlay), Darkat (keyboards, piano, turntables), and Tweak-Tech (everything else) -- practices a decidedly unpretentious pop sensibility that's far removed from the avant-garde self-consciousness of its colleagues. Cat Five revels in bouncy breakbeats, bubbly vocal samples, and a carefree, nonacademic use of software effects, separating itself from peers who use pop as source material to be shredded and spoofed into something that hurts.

Throughout Kataphonics, the quartet relies heavily on found-sound collage and hip hop drum patterns, placing it in the same genus as earlier trip hop pioneer Coldcut and its often cheeky Ninja Tune label. "Shadrach," for example, skips quickly from a spooky sci-fi movie intro to jubilant funk horns to what sounds like a vocal chorus lifted from an Indian pop tune, creating a frenetic montage reminiscent of Coldcut's famous late-'80s reworking of Eric B. & Rakim's "Paid in Full." Given the seminostalgic vibe of this cut and others, like "Run 2 the Jungle" (which opens with the rolling breakneck drums of yesterday's hot genre, jungle), Cat Five clearly isn't concerned with keeping up with the Joneses in the East Bay bleeding-edge scene. And thanks to turntable manipulations by Darkat and guest DJ Bre-Ad from the Exact-Science label, the group exhibits a lovingly analog sensibility.

Cat Five's anti-futurist tendency and non sequitur narratives are a welcome diversion from the innovation-at-the-expense-of-listenability ethos among many laptop jockeys. As fun as Kataphonics is, though, it doesn't quite capture the heat of Cat Five's live show, which gets crowds quite sweaty without resorting to the obvious tropes of contemporary dance music. Still, the album is a promising debut, dedicated to things everyone needs more of: snickers, smirks, and slinky beats.

About The Author

Darren Keast

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