Scratch the surface and you’ll catch a fever for Smaal Cats

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“It’s nine o’clock in the morning, and I can’t get out of my bedroom” howls Charlie Gradon on Morning Kerfuffle, opening track on Smaal Cats’ debut EP Seagulls. As an enthusiast of late nights and noted detractor of early mornings, this line hits home more than I care for my mum and co-workers to know. Though Gradon lets loose all over the track, the guitar work is fairly reserved right up until the last minute, where we are immediately transported to what feels like the final moments of a rock opera, with a wailing guitar solo finish proving to be a better idea than it sounds. For anyone not yet familiar with Smaal Cats, Morning Kerfuffle is a great place to start, kicking off Seagulls in an appropriately puncturing fashion.

smaal cats art 2

Smaal Cats will make you feel no shame for being a cat person. Their tender slices of rock n’ roll will make you want to chow down on Meow Mix for breakfast

Kicking around since 2011, Northern Beaches-based four piece Smaal Cats are no strangers to Sydney’s live music scene, both through playing a large spread of our favourite indie venues, and by putting on a few killer events themselves through their own label/music collective, Cabinjam. From their early gigs to the demos of today, Smaal Cats have continually refined their craft, serving up boisterous live performances rich with spirited indie rock instrumentation and matchless lyrics that swing from self-effacing wit to heartfelt confession without so much as a stumble. Four years into their journey as Smaal Cats, the essence of these masterful live shows has been bottled, sealed and hand-delivered with love.

Free Your Mind is a dirty slice of garage rock that wears a lopsided grin. As Gradon’s deteriorating mind and vocals break apart like a meteor hurtling through the atmosphere, the rising guitar work and propulsive percussion intensify to the point of instability. Throw in the odd smattering of cowbell and you’ve got a caustic anthem that lives up to its title.

Ner Ner Ner Ner is the emotional crux of Seagulls, with the once frenzied and frantic instruments given a moment to breathe and relax. As a result, the pensive arrangement draws attention to Gradon’s storytelling and his splintered voice, with lines like “the whole world is wrong today, and the town that I call home I cannot stay” demonstrating a flair for introspective songwriting, contrasting nicely with the hard-rocking, fast-paced nature of tracks like Free Your Mind.

With the steady flow of a jam session where everything locks perfectly into place, Seagulls Part 1 takes a few cues from slacker rock in its instrumental body. A stoned, couchlocked bassline acts as the backbone for the track, giving rise to slinky guitar solos, mid-tempo drumming and cheerful crowd shouts. As with Ner Ner Ner NerSeagulls Part 1 starts slow, but throughout the track the instrumental incrementally builds in intensity, concluding with a crushing crescendo.

Finally, the closing track Seagulls Part 2 offers some of the richest production to be found on the Seagulls, as the band experiments with sounds not heard on preceding tracks. Components like the shimmering pad that hovers underneath a softly plucked electric guitar in the intro, or the harmonious backing vocals accompanying a repeated refrain “I don’t want be alone anymore,” give this closing track a theatric sound without detracting from the band’s otherwise clearly-defined musical missive.

It’s telling that Smaal Cats had been together for over three years before recording their first EP. With a clearly defined contemporary rock aesthetic marked by unique vocals, proficient drumwork and left-of-field guitar hooks, Seagulls is a gratifying outlier in the realm of debut releases and helps to firmly place Smaal Cats on our radar as a band to follow closely in the years to come.

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