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My Cat Is An Alien - Landscapes of an Electric City/Hypnotic Spaces

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Artist: My Cat Is An Alien

Album: Landscapes of an Electric City/Hypnotic Spaces

Label: Ecstatic Peace!

Review date: Mar. 13, 2003

Maneuvering an Architectural Valentine

To the full extent of my knowledge, the CD-R is a domestic entity, albeit less the product of nationalism than subject to the tyranny of an unforgiving overseas postage rate. In the case of My Cat Is An Alien, the format is also an interesting variable in the catalyzed collision of regional inspiration with a globalized culture of experimental sound. The musical and aesthetic platform of avant revisionists Maurizio and Roberto Opalio, My Cat Is An Alien is a prolific practitioner of the self-released, channeling a veritable stylistic spectrum, from space punk to concréte noise, into a series of CD-R releases. That scant few of these recordings ever left the duo’s native Italy, and that Landscapes of an Electric City, the vinyl reissue of a 1999 improv suite, only recently surfaced on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! label, is a testament to both creative isolation and the transmigration of musical influence. Landscapes processes all manner of recognizable reference in the creation of a sound, and a sentiment, entirely its own, like a genius antiquarian running short-wave radio through a mixing board.

Probing the same aural apotheosis in improvised electro-acoustics and angular No Wave, My Cat Is An Alien maintains a refreshing disregard of generic criteria, even when its talents prove more appropriate to the particular. Ironically, it’s a tendency the duo shares with Thurston Moore, a myopic, but well-intentioned experimentation that favors documentation over necessary dexterity. In the case of Moore’s career, such meandering gives way to mixed results, seldom as substantial as his heyday Sonic Youth material, while the same populist orientation lends Ecstatic Peace! the potential for obfuscated industry brilliance. My Cat Is An Alien, on the other hand, hits its own stride in less traditional territory, mining the seething coalescence of trance acoustics and ambient feedback. Meanwhile, the duo’s forays, and melees, into post-punk hysterics, compiled here on the one-sided Hypnotic Spaces EP, prove decidedly anemic, molested by the same sonic textures that make its soundscape material so rich. Whether Sonic Youth revisiting John Cage, or Italian noise auteurs aping Theoretical Girls, to appreciate is seldom to achieve.

Still, Landscapes of an Electric City, a three-part improvisation dedicated to the Italian city of Torino, is no less impressive for the downfalls of the accompanying compositions. Much of the Landscapes material is underscored by a romantically disembodied air of Mediterranean guitar, somewhere between genuine fragility and the studied, ambient introspection of Vanguard-era Fahey. The record’s first movement pairs this organic template with scraping blasts of tonal precision, an effect that is overly emotive and at once autonomous, an exercise in prevalent atmospherics. Ultimately, the recording gives way to tectonic noise, an oscillating sonic tetherball of processed guitar, wherein warped feedback loops through its own infinite mutation. The brothers Opalio share nothing with the industrial aesthetic and confrontational agenda that characterize more popularized forms of noise; but their ability to imbue rhythm in fractured chaos, like prompting a celestial monolith to sway in 4/4 time, is a rare and beautiful ability, and one seldom wielded with deliberate sentimentality. That such earnest, blue-collared psych-noise could take root in the Piedmont region of Italy may seem unlikely, but I’ll fault nothing so serene as Landscapes for the context that it lacks.

Other sections of the improvisation prove more volcanic, both in sound quality and seeping magnitude. Here, the recording continues its ascent, decomposes in aerie quietude, and even balloons horizontally: the architectural restrictions of the first movement either collapse or evaporate, as electric tendrils probe the cold stone of walls now absent. Whereas somber acoustics framed the first suite, the LP’s second side climbs skyward on the low-end rumble of jet engines, acoustic phrasings thrashing about in the slipstream before they too disappear. There is a certain resignation to the proceedings of the record’s latter half, a predetermined failure to exercise negative space, itself more powerful than whatever trembling capacity the resident silence could hold. Mathematically, My Cat Is An Alien’s vision of the electric city is a strange one, achieving a decibel climax barely halfway through the recording. The remaining exposition is an unraveling, soundings streaming outward and away, volume traded reluctantly for altitude as the improvisation dissolves into ether.

As a conceptual improvisation, Landscapes is brilliant, indebted largely to the parameters of acoustic melody and floating, impressionistic noise that the Opalios manage to intuit from their spontaneous meandering. The three pieces coincide at the crossroads of fervor and stupor, a stoned objectivity and its appraisal of cold familiarity and urban alienation. It’s difficult to imagine a city more vital and more disconcerting than the one summoned purely by guitar treatment and abiding affection. In the likely event that I never visit Torino, I’ll remain content with the dubious sonic image of metallic stasis and the looping, loping ribbons of association, a post-industrial valentine to a baroque city, one that logically and perfectly bookends Marinetti, Calvino, and Fellini’s vision of the alien landing strip.

More or less a vinyl afterthought, the Hypnotic Spaces EP on the collection’s third side is an accomplished and optimistic disaster. I would assume this is the point of entry for Sonic Youth and Blonde Redhead (the Opalios have opened for both), but, in light of the sheepish hegemony Moore seems to hold over many art-rock properties, it’s difficult to really tell. The three tracks that comprise Hypnotic Spaces, merging psych percussion, Kraut redundancy, and post-punk insouciance, are not necessarily any worse than their mid-eighties NYC predecessors, but are an unfortunate departure for a band whose aptitude is almost entirely esoteric. Perhaps the emboldened beauty of Landscapes of an Electric City would not be possible without the more brazen tendencies of these space rock workouts, but even so, Hypnotic Spaces is a good argument for self-understanding and artistic parameters, at least as a preventative measure.

No matter its intention, My Cat Is An Alien makes a weak case for rock catharsis, a shortcoming that may actually speak well of the duo in light of its fluid navigation of improvised terrain. Landscapes of an Electric City moves well beyond the criteria of adept experimentation, embodying a musical gesture with emotional presence and tactile association, champion of the ambient subcategory of avant sentimentalism. On either side of the horizon, there is a point, anticipating the collision of land and sky, where everything becomes ocean, and reference succumbs to aqueous dissolution. This is the sound of the inexorable and the empty, an occasional foundation for cities, the definition of urban projection.

By Tom Roberts

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