If Cat’s Eyes self-titled debut was grown in the dark, then Treasure House, their second, is born in light. If the nocturnal interiors of Cat’s Eyes were a cult flick viewed in smudgy black and white on cathode ray, then Treasure House takes everything into the great outdoors and shoots it in Technicolor on wide silver-screen; an old school blockbuster, of the kind they no longer make.
It might be that composing the soundtrack for Peter Strickland’sThe Duke of Burgundy last year – for which the first-time film composers were awarded Best Composer at the European Film Awards – awakened in the duo of Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan a whole new world of possibilities. It is doubtless a product of the potent sense of location – specifically the deserted town in Canada where Rachel grew up - but everything about Treasure House feels cinematic. The arrangements are lush and expansive, the touch deft and the drama high. The whole of Treasure House is pervaded by a sumptuous sense of class.
One thing that has developed but not fundamentally changed about Cat’s Eyes, however, is the subject matter, which is almost singly about the private world of the two protagonists. From the fairy-tale pizzicato prelude of the title track ‘Treasure House’, to the lonely ache of ‘The Missing Hour’, it is clear we are eavesdropping on a secret society of two.
This private world is explored further in ‘Drag’, wherein well-intentioned girlfriends try and talk our heroine out of a bad relationship. With echoes of the Shangri-las’ ‘Leader of the Pack’, passed through the hands of John Barry, now, as then, the bad-boy allure is potent and the pleas fall on deaf ears.
The remote interior of BC provides the backdrop for ‘Names on The Mountains’, which describes how teenagers leaving the Canadian backwoods for a better life elsewhere, traditionally paint their names high on the rocks above town and alongside the torrential Columbia River. Like the graffiti (and sometimes lives) of those leaving, the pulsing linear beauty of the song slowly feels like it’s being erased, here by a rising brass arrangement of great poignancy. “Don’t forget me when I’ve gone” sings Rachel in ultimately vain hope.
Elsewhere we learn that “the mountains start at the end of the street” via the Edward Scissorhands-esque ‘Everything Moves Towards the Sun’, a song which starts like a futuristic dream in which Rachel takes a visitor on a road-trip through her past. “Did you know that I used to be mean?” she asks once they arrive at her isolated town, before spooling into what feels like a meditation on oblivion; the musical equivalent of counting backwards before going under on morphine.
For every Rachel tale there’s a balancing Faris narrative, the vocals flick-flacking between the two throughout Treasure House. The spare arrangement of ‘The Missing Hour’ is the perfect foil for one of Faris’ most sonorous and affecting vocals. ‘Standoff’, with its motorik, night-driving rhythm, is delivered with consummate coolness and aplomb, like some lost 60’s punk nugget unearthed by Tarantino. As with much of Treasure House, it’s underpinned by a strong sense of playfulness.
Fun is also to be found in day-glo hues on ‘Be Careful Where You Park Your Car’, which serves as a salutary warning to love-rats everywhere that revenge feels sweet when exacted by lump hammer on gleaming fender. With its Link Wray guitar lines, handclaps and call and response vocals, ‘Be Careful Where You Park Car Your Car’ is Cat’s Eyes’ poppiest two minutes to date.
Rachel and Faris are together on ‘Chameleon Queen’, a stately, neo-classical parade through the sumptuous interiors of empty, gilded lives. While Faris delivers the coup-de-grace to an inconstant lover, Rachel employs a goose-bump-inducing, wraith-like soprano in the background. In fact, it sounds as though Cat’s Eyes have left the backwoods of Canada far behind and are back at the altar of the Vatican - where the duo dramatically launched their debut album in 2011.
There’s plenty more exquisite jewels to be found within this Treasure House: theramins that merge with Rachel’s (in)human voice, French horns, cor anglais, oboes, harps, organs, mellotrons, tubas, flutes and so much more. By the closing ‘Teardrops’, with its piano like a flowing stream, the journey from darkness to light, from monochrome to colour, is complete. Rachel and Faris have gone outside and the view is breathtaking.
Treasure House was produced by Steve Osborne and recorded at Real World Studios, Eve Studios in Stockport and Abbey Road.