Once you’ve done your civic duty today, take your mind off all the campaigning red state vs. blue state madness and check out “The Ancient of Art of Leaving” by one of the best bands the great state of Arkansas has ever produced, The Big Cats.
Two years in the making, “The Ancient Art of Leaving” is a 25-song double album, the first half of which, “High and Low,” was released on CD and iTunes almost a year ago. The second half, “Two Parts,” is available on CD and online today. All 25 songs are available on a massive, limited edition 3-LP vinyl set.
The “Two Parts” volume is easily the best start-to-finish record The Big Cats have ever made. It’s almost a shame that it’s the second half of a double album. It is, I think, a better stand-alone record than “High and Low,” though not so much that it’s dragged down playing the entire collection through in one sitting. In that context, however, it’s the rare album that gains energy, momentum, and focus in its back half.
The songs, starting with the irrepressible “I Can See Land,” are all memorable and smart. In fact, nearly every song has a hook that sticks with you well after the song has ended (and makes it easy to sing along to, even if you’re hearing it for the first time). The album’s production polish sounds shiny and expensive, but still has the energy and abandon of a band that’s excited to play these songs together. And the band continues to expand its sound in new directions. The horn section that showed up on the “High and Low” track “King of Brief” makes another appearance on “Born Clean.” Burbling synthesizers and glockenspiel fill out the sound on other tracks, and guitarist Jason White takes over lead vocals on the haunting “High Up Over the Wall.”
Efforts by local and indie bands frequently succeed squarely on passion, love, and ambition, but falter due to lack of resources. It’s truly great to hear a group of DIY true believers that sound like a million bucks. I should like to find some way of tempering my enthusiasm for this record or run the risk ruining my credibility by sounding like a fan boy (an occupational hazard since I typically only write about things I like). But the fact remains I’ve not heard many other records this year so consistently listenable, so well-written, and well-crafted from beginning to end regardless of where the band came from or how well I knew the musicians personally.
The 3-LP vinyl (with better than CD digital download options) is available at Bandcamp.
The CD and links to iTunes are available at the Max Recordings web shop.