“She sounds a bit like that Cerys Matthews, you know, from Catatonia“. “Noooo, she sounds more like Goldfrapp“. And so the mini discussion (argument) ensued in my car as we listened for the first time to Cathy Davey‘s debut album, Something Ilk.
In truth we were both sort of right. Her voice can be raw like that of the Welsh wailer, and breathlessly breezy like that of the latter. There’s something about her voice that is honey-drenched sweet yet simultaneously has an air of “take me to bed”. She can whisper lyrics like a modern Marilyn Monroe, yet don’t be completely fooled: this woman can also belt ’em out. It’s almost a case of “buzz off Norah Jones, this woman sounds as sweet as you but this one’s got balls.”
Her gutsiness comes from a combination of sweetly-sung rock-tinged songs with lyrics that quietly belt you round the face. She can seduce you like a doe-eyed Lolita: “I’m clean, neat, and ready to eat, I’m like a pure white cotton sheet out to dry” (Clean & Neat). But she can also pin you down under her killer heels: “It had better be intact or it’s the scrap heap for you” (Save Button). Hell hath no fury eh?
Opening track Come Over is a warm exercise in seduction. It kicks off with tribal drumming, something that features throughout the album, and Dublin-born Cathy’s sugar-coated singing. It’s no surprise she’s been compared to PJ Harvey – this is a real grrrl rock song with oestrogen levels flying off the radar. It’s also unsurprising that Cathy was signed up after only releasing a four-track EP that featured this song.
Her predominantly folk-rock songs are honest and open but have a maturity that transcends the usual heart-on-sleeve mulch. It’s certainly desire-on-sleeve with fourth track Clean & Neat, which is one big climactic orgy. There’s primal two-beat drumming and a heavy bass sprinting alongside cymbals, confident guitar strums and the gorgeous singing of our sweet little femme fatale. It’s kitten-ish yet fiercely melodic. She’s got the urge and it’s not for a blooming burger.
Slower beat-punctuated songs such as Trade Secret are still charged with passion and in this case a heavy dose of bitterness in the lyrics (“That’s the price you’ll pay,” she wails at the end). The breezy piano-riffed Go Make It also has that sweet quality but, again, listening to the lyrics you’ll hear venom: “What about the other girl, didn’t she do well, well she can go straight to hell.”
Same Button must be the only song on the planet featuring the word “coagulating”. The chorus is a high-pitched plea but quite a clear threat too, based on having to look after a good-for-nothing ungrateful sod of a bloke.
This bitter sweetness is definitely a running theme in her album. And it’s spite that really sticks the knives into what at first sounds like a honey-kissed girl innocently singin’ and strummin’ on her guitar.
By the time last song Mine For Keeps quietly steps into the limelight, I’m convinced that Cathy is one of Britain’s newest and hottest talents. Something Ilk is exciting, breathless and undeniably seductive. Rich melodies and natural instruments bulk up to the lucid lyrics and, of course, Cathy’s luscious voice – even if she does sound rather like Goldfrapp (and not Cerys!).