Ancient Cat Society, Ancient Cat Society

Ancient Cat Society, <i>Ancient Cat Society</i>

I’ve listened to and been a fan of the music Sergio Trevino and Haley Lynch (formerly Haley Barnes) have made in their own little realms for years now, he with roots-pop band Buxton and solo and she with delicate indie-pop outfit Dollie Barnes, rock band VODI, and solo, but until now, I’d never really appreciated just how perfectly their two voices mesh together.

“Golden Geese,” the first track on the first-ever self-titled full-length from Ancient Cat Society, the band Lynch and Trevino formed with Buxton multi-instrumentalist Austin Sepulvado, changed all that. The song is sweetly folky and delicate, plaintive and unsure, and those two voices are both so utterly fragile, each in their own way, that listening to them singing side-by-side is like watching two nervous, shy, introverted people quietly dancing together and finding one another, each slowly fitting into place with the other and realizing how well they fit.

That’s not to say Sepulvado’s a slouch in the vocal-harmonies department, either; in contrast to Trevino and Lynch’s fragility, he’s the rock, the solid ground that holds them both where they need to be. This is particularly impressive on “The Lonliest Pursuit,” which is still tentative and sweet, with Lynch wondering if things really can continue or if they’ve run their course; I truly love the backing music, especially the “explosion”-sounding percussion.

With musicians and songwriters like these, who’ve already got so much experience under their respective belts elsewhere, it’s easy to see parallels between their current music and their past, and I can’t help but fall into that trap with Ancient Cat Society, myself, especially with regard to Trevino and Sepulvado’s “other” band, Buxton.

“Honey Honey,” for one, a countrified little tune with a nice walking riff, sounds it could be an unjustly-overlooked Buxton B-side, and I have to keep reminding myself that I’m actually listening to something a little different. (Oh, and that is one hell of a sublime, subtle slide guitar right there.) Later on in the album, “The Leaves” also brings that other band to mind, all gentle voices and somber guitars; it’s brief but wonderfully pretty, and it wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Half a Native, Buxton’s most recent album.

Other than those two tracks, though, the members of Ancient Cat Society seem determined to not come off like retreads of their original groups. The band shifts gears smoothly with “Do You Feel,” with its bouncy, clicky rhythms and Lynch’s gorgeous, country-angel vocals. It’s got a ’70s radio vibe to it, like Linda Ronstadt in her prime, maybe, or Carly Simon, and just a tinge of The Byrds, to boot.

“Wildwood” is haunting and quiet, with the guitar almost more like a background instrument than anything, and the dueting vocals and piano taking the center stage; the song evokes wandering through some darkened hollow deep in the Appalachians, with a hint of menace lurking beneath the music. The ’70s feel comes back for “Call From Home,” which is a nicely dark, murky slice of folky pop; take away that distant slide guitar, and you’d be hard-pressed not to think you feel in a timewarp back to 1973. For some reason, when I listen to the track, I find myself thinking of “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”.

“Why Are You Getting Married,” on the other hand, is mournful R&B-folk, somehow, with a song structure that made both me and the 7-year-old think of The Jackson 5 (yes, I’m raising him properly). It’s sad but soulful, with an awesomely bouny rhythm, doo-wop-sounding backing vocals, and Lynch’s beautifully high voice exploding out of the center of it all.

Heading further back in time, Ancient Cat Society swing through the jaunty, old-timey country of “Hey! Hey!”, fast-paced and silver-tongued as all hell. “Carolina” is like a Paul McCartney-penned Beatles song you’ve never heard, albeit with a bit of a Simon & Garfunkel influence mixed in for fun.

The album closes out with “To Reach The Sun,” which once again hones in on Lynch’s voice; this time I find myself thinking of Neko Case’s quieter, more overtly country moments, as Lynch soars over minimal, quietly-strummed guitars, her voice steeped in sadness and regret and recrimination.

It’s the perfect bookend to the album, truly, the end of the road begun with “Golden Geese” — the two people I imagined from that first song found one another, but in the end they couldn’t make it work and drifted back apart again, becoming just two nervous, uncertain strangers once more. It feels real and honest, the truest kind of emotion peering through the words and chords; not every band can do that, trust me, but Ancient Cat Society? They absolutely can.

[Ancient Cat Society plays its album release 5/27/17 at The Heights Theater, along with Say Girl Say & Lomelda.]
(Splice Records --; Ancient Cat Society --; Ancient Cat Society (Instagram) --; Ancient Cat Society (Twitter) --; Ancient Cat Society (YouTube) --; Ancient Cat Society (Bandcamp) --
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Review by . Review posted Saturday, May 27th, 2017. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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