On their self-titled debut LP, Cat’s Eyes — the Horrors’ frontman Faris Badwan and Canadian soprano and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira — deliver a deceptively simple set of retro-pop vignettes shot through an ectoplasmic sheen. It’s “spookadelic” music, to cop a Groovy Ghoulies era phrase, mixing fuzzy go-go, ghostly ballads and glammy batcave stompers. (It’s no surprise that live, this crew does a killer cover of Syd Barrett’s “Lucifer Sam.”)
An obvious touchstone is Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, but Badwan’s and Zeffira’s disc is more than just the hazy psychedelic morning after “Some Velvet Morning.”
Badwan’s day job, The Horrors, have been dismissed as a stylish hair band, picking clean the bones of Screaming Lord Sutch. But detractors ignore that Badwan’s magpie pickings have always come from many sources, and that often they are mere building blocks for something fresh and startling. Cat’s Eyes goes the Horrors one better. In addition to the bittersweet male/female duos of prime Nancy and Lee, Cat’s Eyes’ DNA also includes ’60s romantic/tragic girl group pop, Nuggetsy psychedelia and ’80s goth rock.
The title track of Cat’s Eyes is suitably slinky and groovy, but this 1960s discotheque is stalked by the specters of Danielle Dax and the Sisters of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch. “Face in the Crowd” mines a similar vein: Spy guitar, judicious horns and a spectral girl group chorus float sublimely on a narcotic haze.
The heavy hitter here is operatically trained Zeffira. She hits her stride on “Not a Friend,” a bossa beat ballad with David Lynch shades on, and she never lets up. On the hauntingly beautiful “The Best Person I Know,” Zeffira channels Edda Dell’Orso, wafting in on Morricone strings. But it’s the lush, lovely and aching heartbreaker “I’m Not Stupid” that may be her finest of many fine moments. Indeed, this duo may be at their best at their most delicate, as in the heartfelt ballad “The Lull.”
Like Nancy and Lee, Badwan and Zeffira have the good sense to make their songs short and to the point. This is an album filled with gems, tunes that linger in the brain precisely because their run time is too damn short. That said, Cat’s Eyes would be fun but empty calories, nothing more than an exercise in vintage genre retro-fitting, if the songs were not so plain spoken, direct and aimed straight for the heart.