The end of 2017 brought a surprising twist to the music scene. The sudden rise of artists and groups like Brockhampton, Rex Orange County, and Kevin Abstract showed that hip hop and alternative rock were not mutually exclusive; in fact, the two crowds could easily mix. On the cusp of that movement was up-and-comer Roy Blair. With his indie rock hooks reminiscent of groups such as Frankie Cosmos, and his cutting vocal style, Blair combines the best of both genres, closing out the year with his debut effort, Cat Heaven. It’s a 46-minute long dive into the intricacies of the human mind and human relationships, shedding the excessive poetic to get down to the brunt of it all- from celebrating highs to conceding to the lows.
Cat Heaven opens with “Grow Up,” a somber melody that starts as a gentle ebb and grows into a sucker punch of lyrical genius. The retro rock backgrounds makes a strong case for the following twelve songs, but it is within the last minute of the song that the testament to Blair’s potential shines the brightest. What started as a melancholy and bitter introspection suddenly yet organically becomes an anthem for youth; it’s the type of chant that could easily become the rallying cry of a generation of teens. “Alex,” then builds on that energy only to do a complete 180 in the best of ways. Its raw guitar riffs and minimal production let the emotion behind it drive the track, and it brings a welcome breezy summer air to the December release. It’s easily a highlight of the album, and seamlessly blends the various genre influences into a cohesive single.
As listeners progress through Cat Heaven, the darker side of the album becomes more prominent. “Family” is a fog of early-2000’s backing vocals with flares of brassy synth and rock and roll guitar, and features some of the hardest-hitting lines of the album (such as the “cried so much in this house I wonder why I got my ass kicked the fuck out”). “Switchblade” takes those same themes and layers them over the slow simmering angst that had been building through the album. It’s offerings like those that prove that Blair is willing to go where so many contemporaries don’t, and with massive success; his reflective, outsider-looking-in commentary is a dose of reality that brings Cat Heaven to a completely other level.
With the last handful of tracks, much like with life, all optimism is not lost. One of the strengths of the album is its versatility, its ability to flow from the bop-worthy to the slower and sadder to the envious and back again. Songs like “Jane,” “Grand Theft Auto,” and “Kansas” are highlights of the second half of the album, and really emphasize the dramatic shifts that characterize Roy Blair’s musical style. Overall, Cat Heaven is simply an enjoyable, real album, full of quirks that take its odes to the daily life and turn the expectation of what an alternative artist, or a rapper, or a musician, “should” do on its head. It’s fresh, it’s fun, and it resonates, but above all, it’s a thorough, real album.
By: Molly McCaul