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Shmat's Reviews
For more reviews, please visit Palebear which is where all future Shmat reviews will appear (as of March 2006).

Steven Kattenbraker
S/T (CD)

It's sort of interesting. I went through 3 stages of overall feeling with this album. It went like: 1. I really liked it. 2. I disliked it and was wary of it. 3. I came to terms with my misconceptions from "2" and liked it. Let me explain.

Steven Kattenbraker creates softly sung, pastoral scenes of contemplative lonliness, somewhat indicative of his earlier home in the Midwest (he now resides in southwest Washington). Sounds like a lot of singer-songwriters, doesn't it? But he has a great, light touch with his acoustic guitar, aspirated singing style, and atmospheric accoutrements. That atmosphere is the spice by which he seasons the long dusty folk travels that the listener is treated to. It's more folk than country, less rock than americana. Songs like "Santiago" are bleak and all the better because of it, with seagulls whistling desolately in the background.

However. The problem for me came when I started to read his bio, and sure enough I was infected by the allusions to Elliott Smith. Suddenly, I began to feel that the music was very derivative of the late singer's style, especially in the strumming of the 1st song, "Take Out The Knife" (even more weirdly, because of the nature of Smith's demise) which sounds a lot like Needle in the Hay. Those long, drawn-out lyrical passages became a mixture of Either/Or and Roman Candle. In addition, the mention of Beck in the bio made me reach for similes again... could this be Sea Change all over again? And hadn't I heard that folk picking and chords in Dylan or more recently, Iron and Wine? Hmm...

Well, the mind (or rather ears) does play its meddlesome tricks. When I regrouped and listened again I came to realize that Kattenbraker isn't so much copying the artists mentioned as much as honoring them. And give the guy credit, he has some great songs here and though some may dismiss the style as having been copied to the umpteenth power already, I've come to disagree with that. For instance, "Pinus" has a strange and slow electronic freakout section in the middle of it which is more Red House Painters or American Analog Set than Elliott Smith. And who can fault the way his vocal lines are drawn out long and true? At least it fits the music correctly. And that hushed atmosphere in which his songs exist is at once both familiar and intricately unique. Strange. But, in the end, I loved the album for it's straightforward approach and because it reminded me of many artists that I like without completely copying them note for note. Familiarity breeds such a wonderful comfort quilt, as long as you don't suffocate yourself with it.

- review by BY (8.18.04)        

Steven Kattenbraker

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