Every now and again an artist comes along that changes the game. It doesn’t happen very often. Most musicians tend to travel a trail that was blazed for them long ago by previous pioneers. Innovators are rare; imitators are a dime a dozen.
Today I’m going to talk about the new album by Cat Temper, Something Whiskered This Way Comes. I think it’s safe to say that Cat Temper is breaking new ground with his music. I just don’t see too many synthwave artists transforming themselves into cats and putting out genre-defying electronic music these days. There’s only one person doing that right now, and his name is Cat Temper, so you can consider that trail blazed.
Sure, there is a sense of humor to it all. Reading the track listing below, filled with rock n’ roll cat puns, can tell you that much. Then there’s the metal-inspired artwork on the cover, which also speaks for itself. That being said, there is a serious level of musical brilliance to this album that is highly innovative. Does the next level genius on this album come with jokes? Yes, but I swear, if you think Cat Temper is a joke then you are the punchline. You should take this album seriously, and here’s why:
I hit play on the first track and we’re off. A dark synth pad sounds out chords with a sinister intent. Ten seconds into this track and I already know that something explosive is about to happen. It’s a bit reminiscent of the track that “Meow at the Devil” is lampooning, namely the intense intro to Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil.” Layered, pulsating synths continue to play chords until about 27 seconds in.
That’s when the blast beat hits.
WHAT IS HAPPENING?
Metal! Metal is happening! The headbanger in me instantly makes the metal horns with my right hand and my neck bobs back and forth like I am intentionally trying to give myself whiplash.
Then, with zero warning, the blast beat calms down and a riff that is very reminiscent of (but is perhaps one or two power chords off from) Yes’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart” starts playing. The genre count for this track is currently up to three: We have darkwave, thrash metal, and 80’s pop rock all being thrown into the Cat Temper blender. About a minute in an arpeggio enters to keep things moving and the musical interest up. It’s all happening, and it’s all so heavy and so dance-able at the same time. Finally, something metalheads and dance music fans can enjoy together!
Around the minute and a half mark some chords enter from a lush synth that brings with it some very strong synthwave and house music vibes. The fourth or fifth genre of music have been introduced and the track isn’t even half over. There is also some fantastic, well composed, decidedly non-diatonic harmony happening here, along with some pitched laser-blast toms that all blend together seamlessly. Some of these chords… Wow! Did we just dive into progressive rock here? I mean, ok, we had a nod to Yes earlier, but… How? How does Cat Temper work in six genres of music in a minute and a half and not make it all sound like a schizophrenic mess?
Two minutes in the darkwave and metal vibes come back with a vengeance, accompanied by a driving beat and an equally hard driving arpeggio. A detuned lead is followed up by a synth with some sort of wah or envelope filter on it. That synth sounds like it would be very much at home in a track by Phuture Doom. Did Cat Temper just throw in a seventh genre into this track? I’ve lost count at this point and, quite frankly, I don’t care anymore. This is genius. Next level genius, and I’m just along for the ride. Wherever Cat Temper takes this I trust that I will 1.) Not expect it and 2.) It will sound perfect.
The “Owner of a Lonely Heart” riff comes back, tieing the whole track together. It’s brilliant composition, weaving and recapitulating themes that I had forgotten about as I got lost in another section of the song. The previous exposition section took me to the moon and back. We’re here again? So much crazy has happened that I totally forgot about the main riff of this tune. The chill, jazzy, non-diatonic chords section comes back as well, in a way that is sudden and unexpected, and yet it works so well as a follow-up to the main theme. The previous darkwave section also comes back with its detuned lead.
All of this crazy is ended with the same fit of metal fury that introduced it. I don’t know what to say at this point, as I am speechless. This track defies genre, flies in the face of everything that I have come to expect from synthwave, and the craziest part is that it’s all neatly and precisely put together. There wasn’t a moment where I thought that any of the sections changed too abruptly, creating a jarring effect. Instead, each section flows easily from one drastic change to the next.
I got wordy with this track but I could seriously write an entire book on it. This is the kind of music that changes the game. Synthwave, this is your full potential. You don’t have to stick to the same tropes. You don’t have to always have a four on the floor beat. You don’t always have to have a helicopter blade bassline. On the whole, as a genre, synthwave can be so much more, and Cat Temper is laying down the gauntlet.
One track down and I’ve already written a book on how revolutionary this track is. Strap in, this review is going to be a long one.
A shimmering, reverb heavy synth sounds out its chords during the intro of “Calicommando.” Then the drums kick in and the bass is just fantastic—very reminiscent of the Roland TB-303 and its acid bass sound. This track mines areas of the 80’s that I think are somewhat under-represented in synthwave at the moment, namely acid house and 80’s electro funk. We’re wandering into Robots with Rayguns territory here, and it all sounds so fresh.
The wah-wah pedal lead that enters in at about a minute into the track introduces the first melody of “Calicommando.” It works exceedingly well. with the tension-building chords underneath it, making for a very enjoyable dance track. After about 30 seconds of this main theme a delay-laden square wave synth enters. It plays an arpeggiated lead that reminds me of something I would hear in an 8-bit video game soundtrack.
Yep, we’re three genres in and the track isn’t even half over. How does he do it?
A dark, sinister bass line enters and the track takes a hard left into crazy town. I feel like I’m playing the first Splatterhouse for the Famicom. 8-bit haunted house music? I was dancing not thirty seconds ago! What happened? Again, the transition is flawless. Like, oh yeah, you didn’t know that 80’s acid house and electro-funk is always followed up by 8-bit horror game theme music? Duh, what song doesn’t follow up an acid bassline with the soundtrack to Bandai’s Monster Party? Oldest move in the book!
The transition out of this section is even crazier: A synth plays out a syncopated rhythm that is mirrored with a kick drum. Are we even in 4/4 anymore? I WAS DANCING NOT ONE MINUTE AGO! Not to worry, Cat Temper brings the 8-bit vibe back over a 4/4 drum beat. Dance party is back on, and Cat Temper brought his NES!
This track wraps up with another sinister melody from a filter swept synth, thus closing with the previous haunted house vibe. The outro sounds a bit like a record being manually ground to a halt. It’s a brilliant dismount after the absolutely insane three minutes and twenty seconds ride that is this song.
The intro to “Detroit Rock Kitty” differs from the previous two tracks in that it does not have suspense building synth chords right off the bat. Instead, Cat Temper opts for a syncopated, growling bass line and a kick drum that is holding down the beat of the song. Pitched toms enter and an organ sounds out a pitch bent chord progression on the downbeat. A melody enters from what sounds like a synth that has had its pitch modded by the LFO. A chiptune-esque arpeggio is introduced and the drums stop.
Pitched toms are used to great effect in this track in that they introduce each section, which is a time tested and true trope in synthwave. After the breakdown there are two basslines, one that utilizes the syncopated rhythm from before, and one that has a classic synthwave ostinato that I have heard many times before in the genre. The whooshing of the synth pad that plays over this part gives a spacey vibe to the dance beat and bass that flow underneath.
Does the next breakdown introduce another genre? It’s Cat Temper! Of course it does! This one doesn’t stray too far from the path laid out earlier, but I have to say, the palm muted metal power chords were not expected. But, like all things Cat Temper, it fits perfectly and does not feel out of place. It’s dance rock space metal, my favorite synthwave sub-genre!
The next section has a wonderful, woodwind-esque arpeggio that is accompanied by a synth that sounds a bit like a theremin. This melody continues until the end of the track, played by a host of synths with varying sound design. All of this is ended by the very instrument that signals all of the changes on this track: Pitched toms.
Much like the previous track, bass and drums are used in the intro to “Hissteria.” Eighth note sequenced bass and a kick. Classic. The rest of the drums enter and a detuned lead takes center stage as the melody.
If there’s one thing I can say about Cat Temper’s sound design it’s that he is a big fan of detuned leads. I can kind of see why as this one almost sounds like a kitten meowing. I don’t think I ever noticed that before with detuned leads, or maybe Cat Temper specifically designs his detuned leads to sound like that. That or I’m being slowly driven mad by all the cat puns and the next level sound design. I now hear cats in everything, apparently.
I swear I’m not crazy. I heard cats.
Continuing the chiptune theme that is present on a number of tracks, a detuned square wave enters in later. It plays off of a counter melody that sounds like it would fit in on a Devo album. Chiptune Devo!
After the chiptune Devo section comes a section that can best be described as darkwave by way of 8-bit gaming. Another square wave lead comes in over a bass whose sound design would be at home in a Perturbator track. Are they making another Hotline Miami game? “Hissteria” kind of needs to be in it.
Once again Cat Temper brings back the main melody, which I had almost forgotten about because so much crazy has happened since then. Every time this happens I need to remember that Cat Temper never leaves loose ends in his songs. Themes get reintroduced no matter what has happened since. I lose sight of this solely because his unorthodox transitions make me think that each track is through composed but, no, that’s not how Cat Temper does things.
Also, when themes get re-introduced on this album, there’s often something added the second time around. In this case, a wobbly sounding synth in the background that adds a little atmosphere that wasn’t there before.
The breakdown at the end and the outro to this track are both fantastic, ending in a series of laser blasts that draw the song to a close.
“Tomcat Sawyer,” true to its namesake, opens with synth sound design that is very similar to the intro of “Tom Sawyer” by Rush. You know the sound I’m talking about, right? That synth in the intro that sounds like a spaceship landing in a sci-fi movie? Yeah, that one. It’s a quick nod that does not last for long as this track quickly departs ways from Rush.
Once again, you have a blending of styles on this track. Is it darkwave? Is it synthwave? Is it EDM? Who cares? It’s Cat Temper. It’s literally its own genre.
The breakdowns and melodies on this track are fantastic (as is to be expected at this point), with diverse sound design on all of the synths. All of this comes together to keep the musical interest going. There is perhaps another nod to Rush around a minute and a half in. There is a lead that very much sounds like it was played on a 70’s minimoog. The sound design on this lead would be par for the course on any 70’s or early 80’s Rush album.
That is the last nod I can think of, as the rest of “Tomcat Sawyer” has more of a darkwave sound that blends classic synth sounds with more modern synth design. Just as it started, “Tomcat Sawyer” ends with one of those Rush “sounds like a spaceship landing” synth patches. I really don’t have a better descriptor for that sound, so just go listen to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” then go listen to Cat Temper’s “Tomcat Sawyer” and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Just like the intro to “Tomcat Sawyer,” the intro to “Rock You Like a Furricane” contains, perhaps, a brief nod to the track it’s spoofing, The Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” You got some palm muted metal guitar riffs in the beginning. That’s it, as this track is clearly its own thing.
I stand by that previous sentence. I don’t think The Scorpions thought to make darkwave industrial metal dance synthwave by way of the 1985 Nintendo Entertainment system, but that’s what this track is. Halfway through the album and I’ve given up trying to define what all of this is. It’s Cat Temper, and it’s fucking awesome.
Expect to be surprised on this track once again. Are there Gameboy square wave melodies juxtaposed with crushing metal guitars over a dance beat? Yeah, there is. There’s an absolutely brilliant Gameboy breakdown at around the 2:18 mark. Where is this tune taking me? Ah, more Gameboy square waves, cool, so this time we’re sticking to one genre…
FUCK YOU! IT’S CAT TEMPER! SURPRISE! Here’s more metal guitars!
At this point if one of the tracks suddenly broke down into a maelstrom of early hip hop inspired 808 beats and a four piece synth ensemble started playing metal klezmer music I would just put my hands on my hips and shout to the thin air “Oh Cat Temper, you are incorrigible!”
The bass intro to this track is fantastic. You have not one but two bass lines playing off of each other. One is syncopated and being shadowed by a kick, while the other provides a counter-rhythm. The full kit comes in and we have another lead that I swear sounds like a cat meowing. Is Cat Temper messing with my head? Go listen to this track, I swear the lead after the intro sounds like a cat asking for food. GO LISTEN TO IT I’M NOT CRAZY. ALL CAPS = NOT CRAZY.
I swear I heard cats.
I absolutely love how the bass plays off of the meow-lead in this track. The sound design on the bass is fantastic as well, as it has overdrive slowly added and taken away from it throughout the track. It’s well syncopated but still manages to be infectiously catchy with the drums holding down the beat. The original two bass theme comes back before a metal breakdown that leads to a section with a detuned lead. This lead works perfectly with the previous bass line that had the meow lead, and yet it is a different melody entirely. This detuned lead plays until the outro, which features a kalimba-esque synth pluck that is, as always with Cat Temper, an unexpected direction that just happens to work perfectly with the rest of the song.
The intro to “Master of Pawprints” has some classic synthwave sound design—an octave shifting bass and a square wave lead. These two sounds are as much a part of synthwave as they are a part of the 80’s synth music that inspired the genre. A plucked arpeggio and another square wave lead build up to an organ breakdown around 1:08 that sounds very regal and majestic. Hark! Does the king approacheth? I don’t even know where (or when) I am anymore.
The Game of Thrones breakdown doesn’t last long before that disco inspired arpeggiated octave bass comes right back and gets the dance party going. It’s “The Long Night” after-party music. You just barely survived an army of white walkers so now it’s time to get hammered off of fermented giant’s milk with Tormund.
More arpeggios and a melody are introduced that keep the dance party going, along with a lead that would definitely fit in in a modern EDM track. This melody brings the track to a close. What genre is this? We’ve already established the genre: It’s Cat Temper, because EDM Synthwave Medieval Mood Music wasn’t a thing until Cat Temper came along and made it a thing.
Ah yes, helicopter blade bass. It’s a sound every synthwave fans knows and loves. Chords enter, building tension. It all feels so cinematic. That is until twenty seconds in, when a section that is reminiscent of both 80’s rock and a Mega Man boss fight kick in.
40 seconds in we’re in a haunted house.
50 seconds in we’re rocking out with a metal band.
A minute and twelve seconds in and we’re sweating to a VHS workout tape from the 80’s.
Wait, now the metal is back. So is the haunted house.
I’ve lost all touch with reality.
Then, just as I think I’m about to go mad, Cat Temper brings back one of the earlier melodies to remind me that I am still tethered to the earth, and then closes out the track with pitched toms. This track started out so classically synthwave that I thought I was going to get something fairly straightforward, so of course this track ends up being one of the crazier ones on the album.
Oh Cat Temper, you are incorrigible!
Cat Temper is kind of a genius at building tension with chords, and this track is no exception. Right out of the gate we have a nice, whooshing, shimmering synth that combines well with a hard hitting, percussive bass and plucked arpeggio. A square wave synth comes in, announcing the melody. Then you get that classic 8-bit arpeggiated sound that is a staple of many a chiptune. It all leads back to the chord progression in the intro in a way that fits perfectly.
This drives straight into an overdriven lead (the most get-down-and-dance portion of the song) that, in turn, dives straight into an ominous breakdown that is heightened by the use of classic chiptune sounds. That’s how the track ends. It begins with a spacey, darkwave jam that leads right up to Luigi’s Mansion where the Elder Cat Gods are summoned. Classic Cat Temper!
Drum solo! The intro to this track slightly reminds me of a toned down version of the intro to Judas Priest’s “Painkiller.” Metal is happening! Darkwave synths enter and it all sounds evil, sinister, and nefarious. Bandpass filtered chords hit and the ominous mood goes right out the window, Cat Temper style. Octave arpeggio eighth note bass and a lead with heavy portamento completely change up the feel of the track. At this point in the song we’re standing right at the intersection where darkwave and synthwave meet, just as a blistering sixteenth note arpeggio hits.
I keep hearing cats in the sound design of some of the synths that enter right around 2:20. Have I been driven insane by Cat Temper? Do I now hear cats everywhere and in everything? Is it the result of me reading one too many cat puns? Where am I? What is real? I’m going to be hauled off to the insane asylum and my last words as a free man will be “DON’T YOU HEAR IT? THERE ARE CATS IN THE WHITE NOISE! CATS EVERYWHERE!”
Seriously, by the end of this of this album all I hear are cats. In everything. It’s brilliant. It’s insane. It’s genius on a level that straddles lunacy, and it all makes Something Whiskered This Way Comes one of the greatest albums that I have ever heard.
Before I hit play on Something Whiskered This Way Comes I was just a hapless synthwave fan, unaware of what was about to happen to me. I came out forever changed, with a penchant for milk, worshiping Bastet, the Egyptian Cat God.
Is Something Whiskered This Way Comes a synthwave album? What is synthwave? What is anything anymore? Why do I keep hearing cats? What sacrifice can I make so that I might please Bastet? I don’t know the answers to these questions. All I know is that Something Whiskered This Way Comes is more than just a synthwave album: It’s a Cat Temper album.
I hope that this is something I’ll be seeing more of in the synthwave genre—artists that are so damn unique that they might as well be their own genre. Don’t get me wrong, I love synthwave cliches: Neon grids, gated snares, punchy basslines from a Korg Polysix, all of it. It hearkens back to my childhood. I am a kid at heart, and this is where I chose to live. But if the genre has any hope of surviving then more artists are going to have to do something new with it before it gets stale and tired.
Sadly there are a number of artists that essentially churn out the same synthwave album year after year after year. Then along comes someone like Cat Temper who takes the genre to new heights and places it’s never been before. At the end of the day synthwave needs a million more Cat Tempers and a little less “Neon Grid Synthy Synth 198X Ferrari Lamborghini Miami Palm Tree” bands. Something Whiskered This Way Comes is a breath of fresh air and explores territory that I can safely say has never been explored in the genre of synthwave. Did anyone stop to think, “Were there cats in the 80’s?” Well, yes. Yes there were. I had one as a kid growing up in the 80’s. Her name was Fluffy and I miss her immensely. Cat Temper brings it all back, along with a tsunami of awesome that you don’t even expect.
I don’t care if Cat Temper poops in a box and has a taste for Tender Vittles, he’s a genius and you better respect him, damnit.
You can listen to Something Whiskered This Way Comes via the following media outlets: