There’s perhaps fewer hard-working musicians in Australia with a resume like that of Ben Salter. Juggling his time between such indie luminaries as Giants of Science, the sprawling collective The Gin Club and as an integral part of The Wilson Pickers’ first two albums.
In The Cat, Salter has joined forces with like-minded troubadour Gareth Liddiard and producer Robert F Cranny to produce an intimate collection of works written over the years. It’s not too surprising that a combination of Salter and Liddiard might result in something slightly off-beat. As the opening title track The Cat launches into a saxophone solo it’s clear that this is going to be anything but a conventional album.
At a glance The Cat feels unadventurous in places. The simple acoustic Opportunities sounds like the sort of song that’d find its way onto the album of a Josh Pyke or any number of clones. When a hurdy gurdy launches into the background the track suddenly becomes a foggy highlands chant, but comes across as an arbitrary decision. It’s different, it sounds good, but it doesn’t serve the track in any really meaningful way.
Of the recording process, Salter says “Gareth gets bored pretty easily, as do I.” It’s this mindset that seems to inform the album more than anything. The Cat is a restless affair. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments of tender greatness. The haunting instrumental German Tourist signals a run of tracks that feel more focussed and carefully crafted than most of the rest of the album. Clocking in at nearly 8 minutes, West End Girls seems to capture something of Ben Salter that the rest of the album fails to; though as a Brisbanite it’s hard to go past references to catching the 199 bus to the Valley without smiling, the drifting narrative working in unison with bare instrumentation that makes the ebs and flows of Salter’s vocals the centrepiece. “How do you think this will all work out?” the downtrodden Salter ernestly asks as the track draws to a distant close.
You will find glimpses of brilliance on The Cat, but as a whole the album meanders without making any real ground.