El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Katharine Whalen

If you remember the 1920’s Speakeasy barroom music of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, you’ll dig on the new sounds of Katharine Whalen. Here on Dirty Little Secret, her smokey, sexy voice is melded with the modern sounds created by David Sale, who is more instrumental in the creation of this album, so it’s surprising that it’s billed as her album. Not to take anything away from Whalen, but Sale did a majority of the work, writing or co-writing all the material. He also played all the instruments and engineered all the songs. Most of these sonic explorations work, but at times they go left of field.

“The Funnest Game” starts the disc and transports Whalen from the ‘20s to the go-go ‘60s as a deep surf guitar and tooting trumpets and trombones punctuate the moody music. “Want You Back” is a jaunty mashed-up tango as Whalen sings about the conflict as she fights desires in wanting an ex-lover back though she’s in a new relationship. She expresses her torment, “I don’t know. I don’t care./ I still see you everywhere./ So go away, don’t come back./ Don’t believe me ‘cause I want you back.”

“You-Who” has got a funky beat as Whalen rattles off the verses, almost rapping. Here the studio becomes more evident as an instrument, creating and combining unnatural sounds. That in combination with Whalen’s strong vocal abilities brings to mind the band Garbage, as do other songs that evoke the style, such as “Meet Me By The Fire and Angel”. The latter has a slow, plodding percussion and a devilish overtone of streetwalker who is searching for what could be the rest of her life, while all along destroying the lives of others.

Whalen’s voice has a unique sound to make any word in the English vocab sound seductive. This rings true throughout the whole CD, including the title track, a tender ballad where she reveals that she isn’t going to reveal. Her vocals stand out and are allowed to shine to their fullness on “Long”, and it’s too bad more of the songs didn’t follow this model because she gets lost in the mix at times. Whalen sings “In The Night” like a touching country song, but it almost gets lost in the futuristic cacophony, yet “Blur” closes out the album with Whalen only accompanied by a piano. There’s an effect as if we are listening to this track from a scratched record, but her talents are given the full spotlight.

There are a few near misses that should have spent more time in the lab. “Follow” is an uplifting elegy played on the piano with studio augmentation that fades away momentarily during the middle of the song. There’s a constant beeping throughout the first half of the song that is annoying and should have been cut. “The Garden” is a short 90-second interlude that overdubs three Whalen vocal tracks, but doesn’t really accomplish much. The music of “Three Blind Mice” plods along, creating sounds that don’t sound like they are programmed properly.

Dirty Little Secret is an interesting diversion from the usual jazz stylings that fans of Whalen are accustomed to. Those who are open might find some delightful surprises, but the album occasionally reminds the listener that Whalen’s gifts aren’t fully utilized. Tracks should be sampled first. The can be heard at her website and her MySpace page.

This has been a joint review with Fumo Verde.


At 6:19 PM , Anonymous David Sale said...

FYI From "The Producer"

This project was originally called "The Kat n Mike Club". releasing it as a "Katharine Whalen" record (not my decision) has caused a great deal of confusion and shock to those familliar with Katharines prior recordings. The bulk of the recording was done prior to the record labels involvemnt and thus had no real agenda but for us to have some fun and try out new things. It's funny that the reaction has been from near death threats to raves.

It's also fun to compare reviews which you can find on the myspace site and throughout the web. Absolute disagreement on which songs to love or hate.

I would disagree that some of this cd is left of field as I think the whole thing is! I was astonished that it got THE billboard Pop album review.(what, the next Britney?) Even though the reviewer lives down the road from Katharine in rural N.C and thus seemed like he wanted to knife me. But I guess Billboard thought it worthy of the much coveted spot that every major label vies for.

It's all very weird. But I agree, sample it first, cause if you're a die hard purist, please don't buy this cd and then break out your AK7 and start driving toward my house.

Hope but doubt this clarifies anything.

maybe this articel on the break up of the Zippers will.



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