In the five years since Cat’s Eyes released their debut album, Faris Badwan has made two albums with The Horrors and Canadian-Italian opera singer Rachel Zeffira released her first solo album. More significantly though, they also composed the soundtrack to Peter Strickland’s 2014 erotic and indeed neurotic film The Duke of Burgundy. It’s a move that wasn’t particularly shocking; the pair’s first record was almost more an exploration of creating distinctive atmospheres, punctuated by genuine, touching emotion.
True to form, the pair’s second record Treasure House continues to mostly sound like it’s been lifted from the dusty celluloid of forgotten cinematic masterpieces. The opening title track instantly sets the scene with its luscious strings and harps, a magical two minutes that echoes the wonder of Fantasia. ‘Drag’ sees the pair further exploring their love of Phil Spector, Zeffira’s harmonies still lovingly aping the likes of The Ronettes delicately balancing the pop conventions with dusty percussion, piano and light touches of guitar. The duo explore baroque elements on ‘We’ll Be Waiting,’ infusing the track with church organ and clarinet.
Meanwhile, the quiet, beautiful ‘Everything Moves Towards the Sun’ marries Zeffira’s hushed vocals with a featherweight electronic melody that’s eerily reminiscent of the Final Fantasy theme. Her vocals drift across closer ‘Teardrops,’ where the extremely delicate piano melody comes to represent the droplets referenced by the title. In general, Zeffira’s greatest asset – her classically trained voice – is employed more on this album, sometimes drifting across the sweeping soundscapes in a manner not dissimilar to Goldfrapp in their Felt Mountain days. These fleeting moments are simply angelic but even when singing in her usual breathy style, Zeffira is still captivating.
So when a track like ‘Be Careful Where You Park Your Car’ comes along, with its brash attempts at mimicking 60s girl groups, it almost obliterates any sense of magic. Here, Zeffira’s attempts at trying to be like Ronnie Spector completely waste her talents as a singer, simply making you question why. Similarly, ‘Standoff’ might be a standout track on its own thanks to smatterings of brass, foreboding synth and Badwan singing with more fervour than you’ll find anywhere else on the record, but also sits incredibly uneasily next to the aforementioned ‘Everything Moves Towards the Sun.’
Having said that, not all of the classically cinematic pieces completely work either. Even at a brief two and a half minutes, ‘The Missing Hour’ is a pretty plodding affair not particularly helped by an oddly lethargic vocal performance from Badwan. ‘Girl in the Room’ is one of the more intriguingly structured tracks, moving between relatively upbeat percussion to weightier, dark strings after each chorus. Unfortunately while it tries to weave an emotional tale not unlike Sunset Boulevard, including the line “the most beautiful girl in the room” has unfortunate – if probably not intentional – connotations of Flight of the Conchords that dampens the atmosphere.
While Treasure House is a more focused record than Cat’s Eyes debut, it’s still a frustrating listen. It’s easy to think that Badwan and Zeffira are taking the escapist element of cinema a bit too seriously, trying to flee from the confines of the atmospheric confines of sweeping, cinematic atmosphere and comparisons to Angelo Badalamenti towards the apparently liberating arms of retro pop. But the actual treasures here lie where they take the listener on the type of epic, fantastical journey that the best film composers are capable of. Hopefully one day the pair will fully embrace that.