Since 2007, Julian Teakle and Peter Escott have been operating musically from their home city of Hobart, Tasmania, under the name of the Native Cats; if not “working together” as such, then at least each asking the other’s permission before adding something to a song, and generally moving towards a roughly common goal. Now, with the release of their third album, DALLAS, the Native Cats’ grand plan is becoming clear: big shifts within a very small space. The band’s job description remains the same as it has always been Teakle plays bass, Escott sings and operates only the most user friendly electronics, and all the pieces are cryptically aligned in sympathy with your complicated troubles or steady anxiety but thanks to some adventurous songwriting, a criminally underrated Nintendo synthesiser, and a recent inspiring tour of noted musical hotspot the United States of America, DALLAS is a unique and unusual beast.
Even the structure is something of a puzzle. The album begins with its vulnerable emotional core, “Pane e Acqua”, in which all is silent but Teakle’s cold, weary bass line and Escott’s introspective tale of a lifelong teetotaller trying to get to grips with his hard living musical heroes. What follows is the sound of a makeshift electric fence being built around the exposed heart, courtesy of the synths, beats and noises of the Korg DS 10, a Nintendo DS cartridge that has been the tiny centrepiece of the Native Cats’ compact live show for several years but has not reached its full potential on record until now. It slices dissonant noise across the disorienting instrumental “Hit”, draws pulsing neon lines around the deep, dark torpedo of “I Remember Everyone”, adds Kraftwerk esque chimes to the lonesome disco stomp of live favourite “Cavalier”, and generates a gravelly beat and a piercing siren on “Scratch Act”.
If side 1 is the Native Cats building and improving upon their signature sound, side 2 is their journey into surprising and unfamiliar territory. “C of O” is the most complex piece they have recorded yet, a mountain range of downbeat, elegiac pop that builds steadily, comes to a crashing halt, then roars triumphantly back to life with bittersweet blasts of melodica and heavenly backing vocals (courtesy of Claire Jansen and Emma Jane Cunningham of fellow Hobart band Catsuit). Conversely, “Mohawk-Motif” is the Native Cats at their most experimental and unstructured, recorded on the first and only take at producer Anthony Rochester’s studio in Rokeby, an unrelenting 11minute bombardment merging the thrillingly imprecise repetition of early ’80s Fall with the abrasive electronic exploration of late ’70s Suicide. It’s precisely the sort of hazardous move that typically exists solely to be vetoed, but with both band members still imbued with the kind of imagined invincibility that only a reasonably successful American tour and a stand-‐out appearance at Gonerfest 9 in Memphis can provide, and both labels (Ride the Snake Records in the United States, R.I.P. Society Records in Australia) looking to maintain their reputation for cultivating and supporting weird ideas, the magnificent hypnotic epic primitive electro noise jam stays.
The Native Cats may have started out as something of a lo-‐fi minimalist muck-about, but with DALLAS they are deep into something powerful and strange, something nobody knew they wanted until it was standing right in front of them, holding a bass and a portable video game console, sending the inner world to the outer world.