Kat Bryan – Music For The End Of The World – Album Review
Word! From right here in our own backyard you say? Sign me up!
While I’m usually only half-aware of where the music I’m listening to is coming from…I instantly noticed the Canadian-spelling of “Centre” from Kat’s advance single “Centre Of The Earth” from her brand-new record Music For The End Of The World…and I freeze-framed the video for it around the 3:50 mark and thought to myself, ‘well now…that sure looks a lot like home.’ As it turns out, it basically is – Kat’s based out of good ol’ Vancouver, BC – the most major city found in the same province I’ve called home for the majority of my life & just moved back to after spending the past six years in the nation’s capital out east. Always great to have some homegrown talent on these pages of ours – and she’s signed to Analogue Trash, one of our favorite labels too? It kinda seems like a foregone conclusion that I’m gonna dig this…
From what I understand…it sounds like the pandemic era warped our friend’s style & morphed Kat’s music towards a more Gothically-inspired direction, as opposed to the more Folk infused vibes she was rocking with earlier on in her career. I know this much…anyone that acknowledges Poe as a major influence on what they do is certainly a friend of mine…so cheers to you Kat, I looked forward to pushing play immediately after reading that; it’s rare enough to find someone out there that even knows Poe to begin with, let alone awesome enough to be inspired by the kickassery of her music. Let’s do this!
“Circus Of The Living” instantly sets the tone and starts sending chills up your spine with a haunting sound that seems to immediately stick to your bones. Poe’s a great comparison…you could also cite artists/bands like Garbage, Feist, Kate Bush, Cat Power…you get what I’m getting at – this is music that makes you FEEL something. Whether it’s the desolate feeling of the ABSENCE of something, or an actual something, I’ll leave that up to you all as individuals, but the point remains the same – Kat’s rockin’ with evocative, thought-provoking lyricism, textural atmospheres, and remarkable vocals. I like & love a great many tunes on this record, but as they say, you never forget your first – and “Circus Of The Living” was the cut that introduced me to Bryan’s music. As I listened to the spectacular detail in the backing vocals she put into this track, and the elegant boldness of her technique & melody in the lead…what else can I say? I was freakin’ HOOKED – Kat had me at hello. “These are strange days,” as she sings from the start…like I said, you feel that instant chill…but what’ll surprise you the most is how much you love that. There’s an irresistibly cold sound at the core of “Circus Of The Living” that, like it or not, you relate to. Bryan’s insightfully poetic. I’m on the record here on these pages claiming I’m fully exhausted by all the pandemic-era tunes by this point already…but this…THIS…is how you go about doin’ it RIGHT my friends.
Yeah…like…holy heck…I listen to “Bliss” and she’s got me believing, 100%. “This world is so flawed” is such a brilliant line in the hook of “Bliss” – a tiny observation that’s part of a larger point she’ll go on to back up with multiple points of evidence. Again, she had my attention immediately – I love how the music starts out on this track and seems like we’ve just pushed play on a tape that’s been lying in the summer sun for a decade…it’s got that beautiful distortion & warped sound to it that’s irresistible to me. What I love more than anything else though perhaps, is the way Kat’s able to phrase her words and structure her vocal melodies…you listen to a track like “Bliss” and recognize that this is indeed, a lady that absolutely knows what she’s doing – she’s a KILLER songwriter, and knows how to get the most out of her vocals from the lead to the background. “Bliss” has that Portishead-esque level of darkness to it, and that Kate Bush-like level of angelic strength too…the perfect mix of heaven and hell in one shot. Kat could have put this track anywhere on the Wild Strawberries album called Quiver and it would have been an equally perfect fit…from one Canadian to another, that’s about the highest praise I can give out – I still love everything about that record and all its intriguing dark corners of sound to this very day.
I’m always objective, always realistic, and always honest to a fault…that’s just who I am. For the artistic crowd, “Lonely Road” is still going to be a decent enough tune…but for the mainstream masses that might have been lucky enough to find an avenue into Kat’s record with the first two tracks, this third one will probably throw them a little bit. Like…here’s the spot where, if you were to tell me that Music For The End Of The World was actually part of something even bigger like a full-scale musical or theatre production, I’d certainly believe ya – “Lonely Road” has that dramatic soliloquy-like feeling to it. Does it rise to the level of accessibility found in the first two tracks? Not so much…but I feel like the same could be said of most Cat Power albums outside of her main singles as well – it’s like a case of ‘one for the masses, and one for me’ – a compromise that allows us all to get something we love out of an album like this. “Lonely Road” has a lot of artistic merit to it…some significant highlights for Kat’s vocals too…but also a few more questionable decisions in the melody as it twists & turns, and less focus on making hooks the priority. While I think it’s still a cohesive cut that belongs on this record, “Lonely Road” is also that tune that draws a clearer line in the sand and reveals a lot about the artist Kat Bryan aspires to be. A lot of my favorite elements in this particular cut are in the background…the most distant sounds we hear added into the mix really…they’re a great match for the lyricism she’s crafted into this track overall.
I’m still gonna tell ya this fine lady is nothing short of brilliant – especially when it comes to her words. Like…I’d get it if you told me that you were having a hard time finding your way into “Lonely Road,” or perhaps even “Devil’s Curse” to follow…at least in comparison to the way the first two tracks instantly pull us in without hesitation – but LISTEN to the genius of her words will ya? Honestly, her outstanding lyricism should give any single one of these songs a fair shot through your speakers, let alone the rest of the awesomeness that typically comes along with’em! “Devil’s Curse” has a bit more accessibility to it than I’d say “Lonely Road” did – like, when she hits the title/main hook of this song, it’s freakishly gorgeous and she sings it perfectly. I’d probably argue she’s left a little on the table here somehow, even if I’m not necessarily sure what changes I’d make – all I know is that it felt like we never really got quite enough time with the main hook…”this Devil’s Curse…” it flows beautifully, elegantly, and fluidly – it’s almost to the point where it doesn’t need the rest that comes along with it. LISTEN to the uniqueness of her words though, because I’m tellin’ ya, it makes a huge difference. “Midnight, in the tempest of my mind…” – what an opening line! Truly – it’s fantastic…Kat wields her pen like the proverbial sword and slices up the competition with what she accomplishes on a poetic level to complement the sound you hear…I think she’s tremendously talented as a songwriter without a doubt.
I’ll admit though, she makes some interesting choices that might overcomplicate a few things at times. For myself personally, I hear the backing vocals on “Stand” and I thought, ‘okay…that’s a choice you can make’ in terms of how things sounded…and I couldn’t help but think there might have been a brighter tone that would have perhaps added more appeal to the song overall. As far as the lead vocals go though, she’s 100% straight aces…”Stand” might sit right square in the middle between what I loved about the first two tracks and what I thought about the two to follow as a song, but performance-wise, I felt like it was one of Kat’s strongest on the mic. The backing vocals…I will say that they grew on me. It’s a perplexing choice being made there, but the kind of interesting tones that make us pay attention & draw out our curiosity as we listen to those moments. Lyrically, I think she’s got another insightful cut here – and a highly relatable one at that. “Stand” is essentially about summoning your resolve after being pushed too far…finding the strength to take your “Stand” & not put up with the bullshit any longer. It’s a response to gaslighting, to mistruths, to lies, to carelessness – “I’m done playing nice, done with holding your hand…’cause you wouldn’t let go.” “Stand” is about taking your power back from those that would have you drown along with them, and finding that higher ground you truly deserve. “This has to be it, this has to be over” is more than a hook – this is an empowering moment in music, straight-up, and a message/mantra that a whole lot of people out there could benefit from discovering.
“Fading Light” is more about rebelling against the darkening of our souls/planet, and contemplating the many mistakes we’ve made that have brought us to the brink of our own destruction – all valid stuff as far as I’m concerned. Let’s be real here – this entire floating rock we’re spinning on could have been a complete & utter utopia if we had chosen to make it that way…but for whatever reason, we just…didn’t. Instead, we put up a valley of malls, created a whole shit ton of unjustifiable wars, and watched the beauty of our environment, nature, and humanity crumble collectively, piece by piece. It’s a wonderful life, ain’t it? That’s the thing though – somehow, it still IS, despite all this ridiculous BS we’ve put our planet and ourselves through…our spirit is the most resilient thing on Earth, and our will to make the best of whatever situation comes our way, whether we caused it or not, is equally strong…or ignorant. Kat’s gone post-apocalyptic here to a degree, or at the very least, she’s allowed herself to imagine what the world will be like if we continue on this path of brutal self-destruction. “How will we know” when we’ve pushed everything too far – and WILL we know before it’s too late to turn back or start again? It’s lookin’ pretty damn grim & very doubtful dear readers, dear friends…I certainly agree with pretty much everything Bryan’s singing about on “Fading Light” – and I have many days & nights where I dwell on thoughts very similar to what this song is sorting through. Life is what we make it, at least to a degree – I live a very privileged life of which I’m extremely grateful for, each and every day; I could make it fully miserable if I turn my attention to all the horrors of this planet, or I can focus on what little good I can do from my tiny soapbox of influence. I might tend to choose the latter but I’m still prone to doing both.
What I do really like about Kat & the way she writes is that she is as freakin’ honest, real, and raw as they come – a track like “Centre Of The Earth” will speak volumes on behalf of the truths she’s singing about. While most of us, often including myself, tend to hide under whatever rock we can find and ignore so many of the horrors of reality on earth, Bryan’s courageously taking them on instead within the concepts and themes of her songs on Music For The End Of The World. Ultimately, she’s really taking a whole lot of her power back throughout this whole process and getting these thoughts out there into the open air…she’s inspiring, fearless, and insightful – and the world needs leaders like her right now. I’m not looking for someone that pretends to have all the answers – I’m looking for people that are willing to be REAL AF, like Kat is – artists that are unafraid to point out how intensely grim that this mess of life on earth is becoming…how “we should have seen it coming,” and fucking known better. We’re “victims of our arrogance” as she explains – and she’s completely right about that – because in too many ways, as much as I’d like to think we’d have the foresight to escape our own impending doom, we’re all of the minds that this world keeps on turning regardless of what we do, simply because it always has. Will that always be the case? Stay tuned folks – same bat time, same bat channel, I suppose – but I suspect, like Kat clearly does, that one day we’ll learn we’ve truly fucked around and found out. “Is it coming, or is it here?” I think that’s the real question on all of our minds right now that “Centre Of The Earth” asks so cleverly. I used to think I was five steps ahead of the rest of the world in the way I could see things happening…now I feel like I’m just barely keeping up to the plotline of this planet, and it’s absolutely frightening. Uncertainty is as scary as ignorance, even though it might be more informed. Bryan details a horrific present-day reality we’re all living in right now, but she’s accurate beyond words – you feel a track like “Centre Of The Earth” & know she’s singing about things you’ve thought yourself. Definitely one of the record’s strongest & most accessible cuts, and a great choice as an advance single.
She’s always got something exceptional to say through the poetic wisdom in her words – it’s endlessly enticing and consistently thought-provoking in crucially important ways. Like many artists where the message becomes the main element or inclusion into the music, the results of accessibility can certainly vary over the course of a set-list. While I appreciate and recognize that many of these songs build on a storyline thread that essentially ties this material together from start to finish, there are noticeable peaks & valleys when it comes to the strength of the record as a whole. “Bright” is one of those middle of the road tracks…I’m not against it – in fact, I think it’s got a lot of significant memorable highlights in it – at points. If we’re talking about balance though…I’m probably less convinced; there are moments of “Bright” where I’m convinced it’s got pieces of a song that could be one of the record’s best cuts, and there are spots where I feel like Kat could have potentially found a way to make this track resonate more too. That’s the thing though folks…when you display a level of pure brilliance like she has in the lineup of songs along the way, we end up having to hold her accountable and keep looking for her to maintain the highest standard she’s set in the best of what we’ve heard – and most records, if not all, simply do not work like that. Peaks and valleys are natural – that’s the reality – that’s what dynamics are…and what’s further true, is that not every song can be our favorite one, you feel me? “Bright” has some remarkable qualities to it – I’d be the first to tell ya that. Do I want a little more out of Kat here too? You betcha! You see? It can be both things. Plus, I’m a music critic, and by nature, obviously want everything all the time…that’s just how we work – we’re absolutely entitled and entirely awful like that.
As a person with a completely unhealthy belief in simulation theory, detached from the idea that most everything ain’t all that real, I definitely felt the first couple lines of “The Sonnet” for sure. As it continued, the song reveals more of an intentional healing process…Kat’s saying some of her innermost thoughts out-loud, and I believe, trying her level best to will her intentions into existence by doing so. “The Sonnet” examines the aftermath of a relationship, and how we eventually get to that point where we just want to be happy for the other person involved, regardless of how they moved on. It’s not the easiest place to get to…anyone that’s ever loved and lost knows that’s true…but it is possible, and we’re generally better for it. Holding on to things that hold us back definitely ain’t good for us – but moving on isn’t exactly easy either. “The Sonnet” is the kind of song that examines all this stuff under the microscope, and Kat’s performance makes this moment very real…as listeners, we know this is the kind of song based on real-life experience. It’s the kind of song that, were she not to write it, there might not even BE another one, you know what I mean? “The Sonnet” was an important part of her own healing process – and I think she’s been extremely brave to share one of her most vulnerable moments with us all. Ultimately, I’d be willing to bet the vast majority of listeners will relate to this track more than they might even want to admit…we’ve all loved & lost in some way – it freakin’ stings, but we do survive it. One of the best ways you can do that is by finding an outlet for the pain…finding a way to turn personal tragedy into triumph somehow, or at least, let it inspire some real art – that’s what “The Sonnet” does.
All-in-all, you feel the catharsis that Music For The End Of The World, even if it still feels unsure about what the future may hold, or even sounds like Kat herself is still on shaky ground for the road ahead. As a performer, as an artist, she’s a complete professional with visionary insight, a poetic gift, and I have no doubt whatsoever that in making this record, she’s put herself on a firm path to make the next one. It might feel like she’s taken the “Long Way Home” as she navigates her thoughts, feelings, and emotions – but the only way out, is through, as they say. This cut is actually pretty damn intense and scathing in a few spots as well if you’re really paying close attention to what she’s singing about…it’s the slow-burning kind of cut that both reveals, and causes, permanent scars. I love the way she’s phrased her lyrics of this track – “Long Way Home,” to me, is more about getting stuck in our habits and perilously lost in the cycle of what we think we’re comfortable with, as opposed to breaking free from mundane routine and discovering a better path for ourselves. There’s a good chance this is also a track about relationships too – and how a great many of us will go back to something we think works for us, leaving behind something that could be even more special, with more potential…right back into the cycle of washing, rinsing, and repeating our mistakes of the past to let them dictate our present. Kat’s not too far removed from the exceptional substance & power of something McLachlan-esque like “Into The Fire” or “Hold On” here – she puts in an incredibly controlled performance that still exposes an audible chip on her shoulder too.
I tell ya…it’s a damn good thing I’m paying attention here, because there was even MORE of this record than I got in my trusty inbox I tell ya! Just before I went to post this up, I was finishing off the article and combing through Kat’s pages stalking her online & whatnot like I would normally do…and lo & behold – there was an eleventh track that I didn’t get with the rest of the files I had! “At The End Of The World” is a brilliant final tune too…downright essential to this lineup, and I’m extremely pleased I didn’t miss out on it. Alone with just a piano to support her, Kat sounds magnificent, bold, and empowered on “At The End Of The World” in the perfect way that this album really needed as a conclusion. I still think that it’s another track that reveals the true potential for this record to go on and live another life as a theatrical production…but I’m highly satisfied with this as the finale here in audible form too if that’s all there will be. By going low-key with the ingredients and minimalist by design, you get what’s inarguably one of Kat’s biggest & boldest performances…the kind of song that has you listening on the edge of your seat. As delicate as it is intense & focused – Bryan leaves us on one of the most remarkably beautiful and heartbreaking moments of the entire set-list…the kind of song that will have you both smiling and crying at the same time. She’s realizing she has to move on in this last track of the record…and that’s when you understand Music For The End Of The World isn’t just about the planet surrounding us – it’s largely been about the end of HER world, as she once knew it. And that’s freakin’ sad man…devastating really. You’re practically begging for Kat Bryan to find her own version of happiness by the time this track is over, and yet cheering her on for the spectacularly moving moment in time this finale truly becomes.
Find out more about Kat Bryan from the official pages below!
Magical multi-link #1: https://linktr.ee/KatBryan
Magical multi-link #2: https://snd.click/musicfortheend
Analogue Trash Online: https://www.analoguetrash.com
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