Slow songs are tricky things. Songs that move “too slowly” (whatever that ends up meaning, or feeling like) can violate our sense of needing to get things done, or at least needing to feel like something is happening. And yet a slow song can also be delicious in its deliberation and restraint. But: what makes a slow song slow, anyway? A song can have a slow-moving beat but fast-moving melodies; a song can have a normally-paced beat but still feel slow.
“Black Cat White Cat” works both sides of this fence with aplomb, first establishing the prominence of an unhurried 1-2 beat and then contradicting that impression with first-verse lyrics that move largely in double-time. Soon, in what appears to be a kind of chorus (although seemingly wordless), the bass continues its deliberate, spread-out line but the guitar now rings out with a lead constructed of strung-together triplets (first heard at 0:52). Later the guitar fills space between languid lyrics with urgent oscillations of a different timbre (1:48 and following). That there is no obvious overall structure further contributes to the sense of slowness, I think. The song develops not by clearly going from A to B and back again but by gliding into separate but related segments. The faster-moving melody of the first verse never repeats; the thing I thought of as the wordless chorus disappears until the song’s final quarter (3:20), and there evolves into an indecipherable but dramatic interaction between skyscraping vocals and a truly foundational guitar riff.
Holding everything together are two related things: the interval-oriented melody, which floats us up and down the octave via archetypal arpeggios; and singer Anna Gebhardt’s soaring, searing voice, in which I hear rich echoes of the perennially underrated Tanya Donelly. (And if that comparison means anything to you, seriously, don’t miss this song.)
A native of rural Nebraska, Gebhardt studied voice at Drake University and stayed in Des Moines to start the trio Annalibera. “Black Cat White Cat” is a single from their forthcoming album, Nevermind I Love You, which is due in March via the Des Moines-based label Sump Pump Records. The band has one previous release, a three-song self-titled EP that came out in 2013. You can pre-order the new album (with a vinyl option) via Bandcamp.
photo credit: Bruce Bales