A Kiss Before You Go, the sophomore effort from Norwegian four piece Katzenjammer, is a fantastically charming record. With a sound that ranges from folk to bluegrass, blues to country and probably some genres that we’ve never heard of, this is an album that won’t sit still for long, but never feels disjointed thanks to its excellent structure.
All four members of Katzenjammer share lead vocals at various points in the record. They all have great voices and it adds a nice variety of textures to the album and all the harmonies are fantastic, but the strongest moments are those where Marianne Sveen’s incredible vocals are showcased.
Those who know about Katzenjammer will be aware of the great number of instruments that these ladies are able to play, and this record makes no secret of that fact. There are a lot of instruments, and Katzenjammer seem determined to play them all on this record. Luckily they never go too far, and every banjo, glockenspiel, guitar and contrabass balalaika feels like they belong in the song.
There are certainly some rather twee moments in the first quarter of the album, with tracks like I Will Dance (When I Walk Away) and especially Cherry Pie, but there’s something about the earnest delivery on these tracks that prevents them from feeling too saccharine. Listening to the opening of this record cannot fail to put a smile on even the dourest of faces.
The group’s cover of Genesis’ Land of Confusion begins with a sparse rag time style verse, but builds into a massive, bombastic chorus with some frankly incredibly vocal acrobatics from Sveen. This leads into the mournful, beautiful Lady Marlene, which contrasts with the pomp of the last track perfectly.
Rock-Paper-Scissors is a little popier than the previous songs. It has a supremely catchy sing-a-long chorus, and a similarly infection fiddle part. The next track is much stranger. Cocktails and Ruby Slippers has a sweet, memorable chorus, but the verses are manic. Layers of exuberant vocal yelps, primal sounding percussion and a heavy piano part make for an incredibly eccentric track. This is no bad thing however and the track is actually one of the highlights of the record.
Following Cocktails and Ruby Slippers is one of the atmospheric songs. Soviet Trumpeter sounds exactly like the name would suggest. With the melancholy feel of soviet era Russia with a prominent horn section and the occasional solitary trumpet section, this song creates an image so vivid that it almost feels like a piece of musical theatre.
Loathsome M is nowhere near as subtle. This is a rock ‘n roll track at its heart and it makes no bones about it. It’s high energy and fun and it’s a great lift after the more moody turn the record took with the last song. Shepherd’s Song continues the peppy themes with a great tune about wanting to make a girl love you, pulled off with aplomb again by Sveen’s vocals.
The closing pair of tracks on the record are huge. Gypsy Flee is a lyric-less jaunt that just keeps on building, complete with fantastic fiddle playing and gang vocals, and God’s Great Dust Storm is a surprisingly soulful and sparse track. God’s Great Dust Storm is almost a capella, aside from some minimalist percussion, and it has some truly stunning harmonies.
A Kiss Before You Go showcases the musical breadth and versatility of four very talented women (and a man if you count collaborator Mats Rybø) and manages to be packed with cracking tunes at the same time. There’s plenty of sing-a-long choruses, but just as many instances of genuine depth and emotion. It is very easy to recommend this album to anyone looking for something that is a bit different, but is also very accessible and charming.
Standout Track: Shepherd’s Song
For Fans Of: Bill Monroe, Mumford and Sons, Elvis Presley, Sinéad O’Connor
Written by: Matthew Alford