Gone are the days of Cat Power's personal anxieties and “small” records. Chan Marshall has moved on from those with exuberant “The Greatest” as the nail in that particular coffin, and now with “Sun,” she waxes on larger-scale woes over skittering beats, weighty electronic arrangements that make it obvious this album is beloved in its songwriter’s eyes.
Opener “Cherokee” is the biggest and best indicator of this inside-out reflection, banging out whopper lyrics like “[I] never knew pain like this, when everything dies” but then maturing into musings on the American education system through a veil of pop-trip-hop (remember trip-hop?). Standout “Manhattan” tip-toes on the same three notes as Marshall remembers her earliest troubadour days, when she played decimated cafes, lived in sh*tboxes and the New York political atmosphere was not yet pock-marked by neo-patriotism, but by classicism and the struggle for “authenticity.”
And that’s been one of Marshall’s strength, all along, is that originality and realism, to have her foggy voice transition between bedroom bastard music to boppy, aggressive patio pop. Even on tracks like boozy “3, 6, 9” – which irritatingly repeats the same refrain 10+ times to little philosophical effect – Marshall’s narrative is still captivating enough to bear with.
She has the help of Iggy Pop, too, on 11-minute “Nothin But Time,” a two-noted warm blanket of piano and synths, her voice soaring and arcing into the aged Stooges vocals like a melodic time lapse. She raps on closing “Peace and Love” about “100,000 hits on the internet,” bowing out of the album with a sea of jagged guitars, na-na-nas and the lasting declaration “I’m a lover but I’m in it to win.”
Listeners already got that impression -- that she’s a fighter -- from “The Greatest” six years ago. Her striking melancholy has been further tempered with brilliant confidence since then. Self-produced “Sun” is one of those albums one could spin a couple times through without knowing it’s finished and then begun again, but it’s sequenced beautifully, mixed and presented consistently, capped with “Ruin” as its phenomenal single and makes another case that Marshall’s songcraft can ever-evolve without losing effect.