An Incredible Avant-Garde Album About… Cats?

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Tyler Bazemore

The spectrogram of the final track on the album, “Look.” A spectrogram is a way of visualizing audio as a frequency-time relationship graph, in this case used to hide pictures of cats inside the song. Generated with Sonic Visualizer.

Tyler Bazemore, Staff Writer

Many artists have played with the idea of a concept album, an album composed of songs that all relate to a specific theme or story. From albums about an artist’s personal feelings to ones about the environment to even releases about the nightmares a child would have, the idea of a concept album is not a new one. A standout in this category, however, is the 2001 release Songs About My Cats by Venetian Snares, an instrumental album about – unsurprisingly – his cats, and one of the most coherent, attention-grabbing, and ahead-of-its-time albums ever made.

The first thing a listener will notice when listening to this album are the harsh, irregular breakbeats and pseudo-random melodies that make up nearly all of the runtime. This album has been described as “unrelenting in its use of distorted samples and massively twitchy digital electronic sounds that pummel a listener” by Tim diGravina, a writer for Planet Mu, in his write-up about the album.

For many listeners, this might turn them away from the album. Some of the sounds are incredibly loud and in-your-face, such as the sweeping, overly distorted snare drums on the track “Breakfast Time For Baboons.” Sometimes, the sequences the synths are playing sound randomly generated, such as the opening of “Cleaning Each Other.” None of the tracks have a regular 4-beats-per-measure flow, either; some of the tracks turn to rhythms as unnatural as 33 half-beats or even 9 quarter-beats per measure, which can make the album incredibly difficult to follow at some points.

If you take the time to stop and pay careful attention to this album, however, there’s something really special to appreciate here. This album takes many independent – and sometimes chaotic – twists and turns, much like an actual cat would. In fact, Venetian Snares does an incredible job conjuring up imagery of cats through instrumentals alone.

Many tracks contain sounds that, despite being made from synthesizers and drum machines, sound uncannily similar to cats. A great example of this is the droning synth at the end of “Poor Kakarookee,” which almost sounds like a cat purring softly. The track “Pouncelciot” contains a saxophone solo that sounds like a cat hyped up on catnip, either trying to frantically chase down its prey or just get some attention from humans.

Venetian Snares not only does a great job creating actual cat-esque sounds, but also does an even better job crafting instruments and writing progressions that tell the story of cats. To use the tracks “Poor Kakarookee” and “Pouncelciot” as examples again, the former uses dark, frightening tones melting into a soft drone to give the impression of a cat who’s had a tough life finally finding some peace. Meanwhile, the latter starts off very quiet and contained, only to suddenly break into a frenetic mess, painting a picture of a cat stalking and finally pouncing on its prey. Even if the instruments aren’t your typical drums and guitars and whatnot, the soundscapes do an excellent job portraying the feeling of cats.

Songs About My Cats is one of the most vivid, forward-thinking albums of its time. You can find this album on Venetian Snares’ Bandcamp page.