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Catskills (March)

Wednesday, Dec 20 2000
When Pamela Valfer (aka Kittycraft) first whipped up her original recipe for left-field funk in the mid-'90s, it boded well for the overly earnest world of alternative pop. Taking looped beats from crackly old records, the Minneapolis native added long keyboard pulls and three-note bass lines to fashion homemade dance music that even the twee kids could step to. Most important, she sang in a unique, disco-nasal style, her voice oscillating like a high-pitched bumblebee.

On her first full-length CD -- 1998's Beats and Breaks From the Flower Patch -- the limitations of Valfer's sound became apparent. As a sampler, Valfer had impeccable taste; but as an architect, she seemed unable to make songs with distinct beginnings, middles, and ends. However great the individual drum and synth loops sounded, Kittycraft's songs didn't really go anywhere; without much to distinguish one track from another, the album ended up sounding like 11 studied rewrites of a single song.

But repetitiveness is forgivable when the song being repeated is a good one, and it seemed inevitable that the monotony that dogged Beats and Breaks would lift once Valfer got comfortable enough with her sound to begin building on it.

The good news about Kittycraft's sophomore CD, Catskills, is that Valfer does indeed have a few new tricks up her sleeve. "San Fran" and "Apriori" break new ground by sprinkling acoustic guitar into the beat-heavy mix, while "My Head Falls Softly" features manipulated choir vocals that are cut and looped in imaginative layers. There's also a little more variety in some of the drum sounds and break beats.

But these new additions can't cover up the fact that Catskills is essentially a reheat of Beats and Breaks. It's disappointing, since Valfer could have made one of the best records of the year if she had forced herself to experiment and grow. Instead, listeners get 10 more versions of Kittycraft's one great song. It's a sweet consolation prize, rendered sour by the fact that this cool cat's skills are still untested, and her promise unrealized.

About The Author

Chris Baty


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