Cat Power


Would you punch me in the face if I started yet another post by bragging about a weekend beach trip? Go ahead… I deserve it :/

On Friday evening, Mrs. YHT and I absconded to Nags Head, NC, where a few friends had rented a cozy little cottage — the kind that has gently warped floorboards and makes you feel like life is much simpler than you regularly perceive it to be. After a late night Michael Jackson/Girl Talk dance party and a Saturday afternoon spent battling a windy beach and the most violent non-hurricane ocean conditions I can remember seeing in the Outer Banks, we settled in for a low-key game night.

OK, so “low-key” probably isn’t the right word to use when you’re playing Cards Against Humanity. This was my second time playing the game, which can best be described as Apples to Apples‘ louder, hilariously evil twin. Here’s how it works: when it’s your turn, you draw a black prompt card, on which an incomplete sentence is printed. The rest of the players try complete that sentence with one of their white cards, on which appear a variety of (often offensive) phrases, and you get to pick the one you like best. A quick example, using actual cards from the game…

“The class field trip was completely ruined by ______.”

  • “Racially-biased SAT questions”
  • “Dickfingers”
  • “Another goddamn vampire movie”
  • “Waking up half naked in a Denny’s parking lot”
  • “Sarah Palin.”

(For the record, I’d probably choose “Sarah Palin,” with “Another goddamn vampire movie” coming in a close second.)

The whole thing is a fascinating exercise in subjectivity and context. Black cards establish the parameters, white cards provide evocative specificity, and each player’s unique bias acts as a bridge between the two. Together, all three work hand-in-hand to form a complete and meaningful thought — I swear it’s funnier than I’m making it sound — and strangely enough, thinking about this process helped me understand why I love Cat Power’s new song “Manhattan” so much.

To give you a little background, I first fell for her (Chan Marshall’s) music 4 or 5 years ago when I heard “Lived In Bars,” a simultaneously solemn and celebratory tune that eulogizes a time in her life in which she was drinking heavily. Because this is the song that hooked me, the specter of alcohol drifts just overhead when I’m listening to her songs, whether they deal with the topic or not. This probably also has something to do with a bit of semantics that’s always struck me as powerful — that, according to the disease model of alcoholism, no matter how long it’s been since their last drink, recovering alcoholics never stop being “alcoholics.” The condition doesn’t change, just their ability to cope with it.

I realized on Sunday morning that, while “Manhattan” doesn’t directly mention drinking, it feels like a companion to “Lived In Bars.” Both deal with nightlife, darkness, emotional distance and saying goodbye, and when played back-to-back, they complement each other nicely, separated by time, timbre and temperament, but joined by context (coincidentally, they’re even in the same key). “Lived In Bars” provides a concrete set of circumstances, “Manhattan” completes the thought with splashes of abstract meaning, and my own experience with Marshall’s music brings the two together. Bing, bang, boom. It’s a little like a hand of Cards Against Humanity that took a half-decade to finish. Ya know, without the dickfingers and racist jokes and stuff.

Try both out below and see what you think. If you like what you hear, scroll down a little further to sample an additional pair of songs from her amazing new album, Sun, which you can buy from iTunes here.

Cat Power “Lived In Bars” [Spotify/iTunes]

Cat Power — “Manhattan” [Spotify/iTunes]

Cat Power — “Ruin” [Spotify/iTunes]

Cat Power — “Cherokee” [Spotify/iTunes]

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