Just a disclaimer, this is a collection album, including rarities, B-Sides, covers and a new track, all of which date as far back as 2002. That being said, Cats on Fire is probably the one band that deserves your attention that you’ve possibly overlooked (mistake!). If this is the case, then Dealing in Antiques is a great starting point, a place to find your footing as your obsession begins to grow. For those of you already in the know, you have to be ecstatic to have access to these wondrous tunes.
You’ll know immediately that this group is willing to go out on a limb, as the being this collection with “Your Woman,” a cover of the hit by White Town. Still, keeping true to their form, there is a bit more of a jangle in the chorus guitar chord, giving more of a smooth bounce than the original provided with its club-banger tendencies. They then lead you into 19 more tracks, each one worthy of your careful listening ear.
“Poor Students Dream of Marx” establishes the band’s sound as far back as 2004, and we’re lucky that they had such foresight to see their own greatness, even so early on in their career. Personally, the way the guitar is played throughout the entire song just really gets me, especially when it picks up speed and difficulty. Steady percussion keeps pace, allowing the guitar to cut in and out of the song, all of which accompany Mattias Bjorkas voice (imagine Morrissey-mixed with Jarvis Cocker, except more of a warmth tone as opposed to blatant sexuality).
However, not a band to be pigeon-holed, the group offers tracks like “Something Happened.” There’s a bit of a gentle strumming along the guitar here, yet it all has a more country feel, almost folk-ish, showing that the band isn’t all about pristine jangle pop (though they knock that genre out of the park). They immediately follow that with “On His Right Side,” which is one of those tracks that exhibits the beauty of this collection, as understated piano walks quietly in the background of Bjorkas and a heavily strummed guitar. As Bjorkas reaches for that falsetto, you can’t help but to tingle just a bit; these are the sorts of moments that create cult followings.
As much as you’d liked to ignore the Morrissey similarity between Bjorkas and the man himself, a song like “You Will Find Me Where You Left Me” does definitely bring the aged crooner to mind. Yet, there is a certain solemnity to the way Mattias sings throughout this song, as if he’s not seeking your understanding, merely evoking his own personal sentiment. “Honey Your Baby” probably doesn’t do much either to distance Cats on Fire from The Smiths either, yet you have to really leave all that aside, as the sharpness of Marr is not quite as present here, instead replaced by a warmer, gentler guitar. If you ask me, this is where the band achieves their bread and butter, asking you to fall in love alongside the record, rather than to merely listening to a story of another man falling in love.
Really, if you want a perfect record, this is probably as close as you can come. You’ve got your jangle pop tunes, as previously mentioned, yet you’ve got slow burners such as “They Produced a Girl,” one of the band’s earliest songs on this collection. The vocal quality is a bit dense, but its the perfect juxtaposition to the rest of the record, showing how what was rough merely needed a bit of polishing before creating gem after gem. And to close out the record, they offer a new track, “The Hague.” One listen to this track will make you salivate immediately for the next album, as this one surely isn’t enough.
If it weren’t for great little labels like Matinee Recordings, many people would probably not have the access to Cats on Fire, which would be tragic. Listening to Dealing in Antiques gives the aura of a band beginning an enduring cult following. You want all your friends to love this album, yet at the same time, you feel as if you’ll lock these tunes away forever. Such is the way a quiet legacy is built, and such is the one you have before you after looking through the closet of this wonderful band from Finland.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/cats04.mp3]
Download: Cats on Fire – The Hague [MP3]