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Magic That Works – The Multiple Cat’s “Intricate Maps”

The Multiple Cat
Intricate Maps

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Patrick Stolley wastes no time. Returning again in his guise as The Multiple Cat, the Davenport, IA-based singer/guitarist/Daytrotter Studio co-founder jumps straight to it on latest album Intricate Maps, the more-or-less title track (simply entitled “Maps”) launching the proceedings on a perked-up new-wavey 4/4 beat that rather suggests prime-time Squeeze taking over a Police song and giving it a proper slating (think “Roxanne” sped up to the pace we all sort of wished it would’ve had in the first place). It’s the kind of popping opener that turns our head, quickens our pulse, and reminds us anew of the seemingly effortless, classicist songwriting facility we once again find ourselves in the company of. “Maps” also provides the happy opportunity to instantly acknowledge the rich efficiencies of the rhythm section that so buoys this track and the album entire. Not sure where Stolley would be without the talents of drummer Phil Pracht and bass player Ben Crabb but I doubt he wants to find out. There’s a sort of exorbitant economy to their playing on Intricate Maps that manages to be supportive and individually expressive in equal measure and, when added to the head Cat’s not inconsiderable pop accomplishments makes for a very tight record indeed (one need look no further than the instrumental “Theme III” for concise, pounding proof).


Following a compass heading marked ‘spry, adventurous indie,’ Intricate Maps traces a course of loosely-linked way stations and stopping-off points that appear to mark a journey of some personal emotional significance to Stolley. Even inside the clicking melodic jauntiness of “Maps” it’s clear we’re talking something more complicated than simple cartography could explain, and the stakes of discovery only seem to get steeper the deeper in we go. “David,” immediately following, builds itself atop some crafty Frippertronic guitar and a snakey bass into an affecting piece of shiftingly layered, restless pop, “Green Ice” defines its own melancholia via what might be called an accelerated downtemponess, skipping hypnotically forward, its touch light, its brow heavy. First single “The Lovers,” though lovely and as hung across its brief length with hooks as lithe as any TMC track you’d care to mention (and that’s not even to talk about a bassline worthy of Tina Weymouth), is shadowed by moments of uncertainty, however easy on the ears the song otherwise is. The adroit, synth-wavey “The Boring Game” – think Kraftwerk cutting their teeth on a solid underground midwest vibe – percolates along happily enough even as it’s nettled with complexity, its bonhomie tangled in an undercurrent of energetic ennui.

You get the idea. An exquisite tension presides throughout Intricate Maps, the push and sublime pull of an exuberance of songcraft doing the existential tango with the draggier contours that inescapably shape the human experience, especially in this hyperlinked age of disconnection, making this, above all, an example nonpareil of ‘the modern rock record.’ Conveniently, Stolley is considerate enough to include two tracks on side two that neatly exemplify the sweet-but-piercing yin-yang.

“Magic That Works,” punchy tight with a softly serrated edge, exhibits the kind of hook-inside-the-prog-pop chaos that Modest Mouse once trafficked in (the key difference, I would suggest, being the matter of often-crippling self-consciousness, of which The Multiple Cat show little, whereas Isaac Brock and company…[writer trails off, words left unsaid]), its bright, brittle guitar gliding airily over a subtly breathless rhythm pocket deep enough to swallow Memphis. Following the meditative interlude of “Theme II” – gentle, eerie, explorative – “Magic That Doesn’t Work” takes the pop torch and carries it on an understandably more subdued, more ruminative ride, though not, it should be hastily added, one without its own momentum. Filming through a wider lens (“all at once there were cities on the plain / sprinkled high into the hillsides like so many swatted flies” is its opening gambit), it’s nonetheless, paradoxically, the spikier of the two, and there again the album’s tension, structurally expressed.

Leaving us on the aching piano ballad-turned-aching indie lament “Bells” that crosses Gold Rush-era Neil Young with a Bon Iverian yearning, The Multiple Cat have turned in another under-the-radar gem that deserves an over-the-top response. It’s not like songwriters of this stripe – their mastery defined by a coalescing of the delicate with the forceful, hooks pouring off them like rain – are abundant across the land, which, that being the case, we can but highly recommend you reward the cat, and yourself, by adding some Intricate Maps to your collection today (available here). It is, in a phrase, magic that works.