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avatar for Stranger Cat

Stranger Cat

“Ultimately, the creation of Stranger Cat was driven by an instinct to survive.”

Born in the claustrophobic chaos of Brooklyn, NY, Stranger Cat — an electronic pop project from Cat Martino and co-producer Sven Britt —came to be through a dark time and a respite in the wilderness, both of which ultimately led to a personal and musical rebirth. Stranger Cat developed out of a congenital collaborative partnership between Martino and Britt, resulting in their debut full-length In The Wilderness. If you’ve been paying attention to independent music over the past several years, you have almost certainly heard Cat Martino’s voice. The Brooklyn native was Sufjan Stevens’ right hand woman for Age of Adz and All Delighted People albums and world tours, recorded and toured with Sharon Van Etten circa Epic, sang on Son Lux’s Lanterns (and forthcoming Bones), and appeared with The Shins on Saturday Night Live. She has also opened tours for Marissa Nadler, Indians, Rufus Wainwright, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Mark Gardener (of Ride), Gardens and Villa and more. The songs maintain an unmistakably poppy sensibility throughout the record, but there’s a dark personal tale lurking beneath the polish. In the summer of 2012, a breakup with her longtime boyfriend/co-producer – coupled with a flare-up of a once-healed neuromuscular illness – left her feeling dejected and utterly isolated, and she fell into a deep depression. In need of a break from the ever-present tension of New York City, Cat retreated to the California foothills to regroup and write. Cat remembers the dark period responsible for Stranger Cat’s formation with striking clarity of vision. “I was living a bad dream or a good country song – I lost my man, I lost my job, had no money to live on. I could barely make music (save for some simple sounds into my microphone and loop pedal, which offered some comfort), and felt I should quit music as a career. I was smoking heavily and drinking a lot of vodka from my freezer and taking pills just to sleep with all the pain.” Thankfully, her saving grace came in the form of an old friend who booked her a flight to California upon learning of Cat’s situation. “She picked me up from SFO airport, got one sight of my sorry, sleepless, smoky ass, and said, "That's it, I'm taking you to the ocean before anything else,” Cat recalls. “She drove us straight to these massive cliffs with the sea beyond and we tore our clothes off and ran in. It was a beyond-baptismal and joyful catharsis. A memory of that is where “Unzip Your Skin” emerged from.” Upon arriving in California, Cat retreated to the Sierra Foothills to record the songs that would become In The Wilderness, camping out in her friends' woodsy backyards, stringing three 30-foot extension cords into her tent turned studio in the woods, or cat sitting for travelers in small Grass Valley cottages. “Ideas for melodies and beats came slowly, then poured,” Cat remembers. She invited her then-future bandmate Sven Britt to join her for a stint of recording, where the two began working as a team co-producing the songs. A plump feline appeared daily to listen, and they called it “Stranger Cat,” as they’d heard tell of the Foothills’ long history of UFO and ghost sightings.

When she returned to New York, Cat brought some of her friends into the studio – as a result, In The Wilderness features guest appearances from Sufjan Stevens, Christopher Powell (Man Man), Darby Cicci (The Antlers) and Reggie Pace (Bon Iver), among others. Instead of playing into the platitude of the bleary-eyed breakup piece, Into The Wilderness subverts that notion by blending shimmering synths, sparse and skittering beats, lush vocal loops and omnichord with Cat’s strikingly soulful vocals. It would be tempting to file the record under “ethereal pop” on first pass, but when factoring in the trip-hop beats, blaring trombones and piano runs, categorization gets a bit more complicated.

The record itself tells Cat’s transformative narrative in detail, but not only through lyrics – despite the inherent contradictions in the songs’ melodic brightness and the subject matter, the music itself tells her story emphatically and eloquently. “Empty Little Word” opens the record with an urgent, seductive howl and tales of a need to escape the city to the quiet purity of the wilderness. It leads us to “Sirens,” the musical manifestation of her depression, illness and addiction. Inspired by The Odyssey, Cat likened the sirens constantly blaring outside her Brooklyn apartment to the Sirens of the legend. She pleads, “Tie me to the mast - Don’t let me steer the ship into to the rocks,” but the plea seems almost directed at herself – she longs so desperately to regain control of her life and live freely in the present. That these heavy subjects are presented atop such a buoyant, dance-worthy beats provided by Britt, encapsulates Cat’s reemergence to society, and to her true self.

“I didn’t set out to write a personal record, but when it came to lyrics, I couldn’t deny what was happening,” Cat muses. “A handful of songs on this record are about loss of control, wanting to regain control, or feeling such a lack of it, being completely controlled by someone else or circumstances. Ultimately, the creation of Stranger Cat was driven by an instinct to survive.”

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