Cay: ‘Nature Creates Freaks’ album (“those red-hot gravelly tones”)

23 Jun
Cay: 'Nature Creates Freaks'

Cay: ‘Nature Creates Freaks’

On a quick listen you might be tempted to put Cay straight into the femme-noise box, however much you thrill to them. There’s the loose-wired slangy racket of the two guitars, the American-styled punk roars of instruments and voice, the general “let-off-the-leash”-ness of this album. Not least, there’s the striking vocal and visual presence of Anet Mook up front; defiantly anti-glam but compelling the attention anyway, ripping the frets out of her guitar and scorching her vocal chords with her flammable yell.

There’s also the album’s clutch of rackety singles. The mixture of pattering, jangling drag-racer suspension and blazing gasoline riffola in Better Than Myself; the pure punk venom of Princes And Princesses which all but drags a friend out of the comfort of collusion, spitting and chiding (“perverted decent little thing, I hate your guts cos they don’t exist”) prior to burning away with her down the road as if trying to rewrite ‘Thelma & Louise’ as guitar flare. The violence of Neurons Like Brandy, which feeds off a familiar Nirvana-ish alternation of quiet and loud, but sped up to a unnerving back’n’forth flick between stroke and punch; all to display the swerving of a love shot through with pills and booze, bonds and walls, focus and absence… of contradictions that won’t hold, but won’t break easily enough.

Not that the album tracks give much away to the singles, either. Reasonable Ease In Chilled Out Conditions leaps around its cage with enough aggression to punch out my speakers, and possibly my lights too. Cay attack the song as if they’re trying to singlehandedly relaunch punk in a shower of crunching bass and Uzi drum slams. Here, Anet sings like a suave skinning knife: her harsh, vicious slurs crack like a whip, and she chews words like gum. “And all the snow will melt away, / another week’ll come to stay, / to help you pull your little scam… / ‘Cos in the end you’re leaving like a sound! To be honest, I don’t know what the fuck she’s on about (cocaine madness, perhaps) but when Cay can fire it fifty miles up into the air via ten million volts of guitar I don’t particularly care.

There’s enough unleashed rage here to satisfy the grrlpunk board, though the fact that the other three Caypeople are men might brand them, to anyone drawing up the passports, as more Blondie than Bikini Kill. Yet… there sounds as if there’s more to Cay than just a femme-fronted burst of punk power which’ll burn itself out in a sorry gulp of lost fuel in a year or two. The truly compulsive thing about Anet’s voice isn’t the anger; it’s the permanent note of astonishment that cuts through those red-hot gravelly tones. It’s a yelp of instant reaction to anything (whether it’s introspection or copping an insult). It makes her someone who’s always on, always with the nerve to jump back or jump in.

In counterpart, there’s the detail work performed by Nicky Oloffson, Cay’s deceptively quiet-mannered guitarist and lateral thinker. He brings the odd noises, the jazz-chords that slip questions in; the art-textures that clink and keen in the mix, the sweet strums and battered song-sighs that break up the heat-blasts. Cay might have more of a chance of a commercial breakthrough than most – there’s an arresting hookyness balancing their controlled chaos – but there’s clearly an art-rock band evolving inside this tight, powerful metalcore package.

As well as the usual punky suspects, Cay’s love-list includes the evolving, protean King Crimson. This is a good sign, and explains how they can pull off such a wondrous effort as the album’s title track – a beautiful mix of punk power-chords, an ecstatically bruised and revelatory vocal from Anet, and a long moment when the rock rolls aside to reveal a heartfelt swathe of inner-space guitar melodies. On the rougher end, it also explains the parade of tempo-chopping riffs on Senseless – skirting points from Purple Haze and ‘Larks Tongues In Aspic’ through to Nomeansno and fully enraged hardcore punk, with a slam of alarm bells.

And then there are Anet’s lyrics, which dodge gesture politics or party rhetoric (of either kind). Most of the time they’re both simple and opaque. There’s some ragged individualism, some slippage between connections and independence. More often, though, they’re a discombobulated and shifting matrix of ideas, truths and motivations (with a hefty sprinkling of drug talk and quarrelling). They show life as it tends to appear to the over-curious – suspect; tenuously woven together. Something blurred by the changing loyalties and dependencies of unsettled lives where there are more questions and rejections than there are answers.

On the country-ish billow and scrub of Come Out, Anet is certainly questioning, though she’s questioning no-one in particular unless she’s trying to put a face onto the forces of chance. Cay seem to accept the unreliability and conflict in human flux… and unusually, they even accept their own. In the middle of the colossally aggressive guitar screams and sardonic vocal squalls in Reasonable Ease In Chilled Out Conditions, Cay slip gently into a embracing strum while Anet sighs “when we both come down, when we’re both worn out, / that’s where we should meet…”

A moment of unlikely grace, but then Cay are a band with unexpected depths.

Cay: ‘Nature Creates Freaks’
EastWest Records, 3984277462 / 3984277461
CD/vinyl album
Released: 17th June 1999

Get it from:
CD or vinyl best obtained second-hand; files streamable from Bandcamp.

Cay online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM

One Response to “Cay: ‘Nature Creates Freaks’ album (“those red-hot gravelly tones”)”

  1. Dann Chinn April 24, 2013 at 12:10 am #

    How right I was… and oh, how wrong.

    Cay had all the promise I’ve written about here, but their chances of a breakthrough were being whittled away even as they recorded the album I’ve reviewed here (this is the original 1999 ‘Misfit City’ review by the way, although I’ve repolished it and slipped in a couple of lines from some of the single reviews). Drugs were already hollowing them out from the inside: they slipped first into defensiveness, then the most banal mystery (the kind in which everyone knows the secret but nobody’s telling and nobody really wants to say something), and finally complete disappearance. It’s not how I’d want to remember them, but that’s how it happened.

    Over the intervening years, Cay have never been that far from my mind. This is partly because of my own memories of their gentle, modest, generous-spirited nature on those infrequent times when I met them myself; but also because of curiosity sparked by various music forum threads, tossing around ideas about what had become of Anet Mook. For someone who’d only managed one album (which promptly disappeared into the mulch of low-selling indiepunkmetal) she still attracted more curiosity than the average music biz drug casualty. Some of the suggestions and claims as to what had become of her were both positive and surprising, suggesting a constructive and creative life after burnout. Similarly, rumours of other sightings (involving desperate behaviour and destitution) suggested that she’d never escaped the downward spiral.

    What *is* known is that Anet eventually returned to her native Holland to clean up, perhaps not for the first time. In summer 2011, the news of her sudden death (after being struck by a train) brought shock and regret rippling through that certain chunk of indie rock giggers and players who remembered (or had been a part of) Cay in their prime. By the best accounts, she was sober and sane when it happened. This doesn’t make her death any less of a horrible accident, or a waste: but at least it gives her some dignity.

    When I revamped ‘Misfit City’ in 2012, the Cay reviews were always earmarked to be brushed up and reposted in the new blog, though there was always the risk that they might not have aged well. Fortunately, there was not too much to be done. The band had inspired me enough at the time to bring out thoughtfulness in what I wrote. I had noticed that Nicky Olofsson had quietly resurfaced with a MySpace page some time ago (http://www.myspace.com/509766758), but the final spur to getting this review up’n’public again was the relatively recent arrival of the Cay Bandcamp site. This opened up the Cay archives of live recordings and sessions, as well as the demos for what might (in a kinder and less susceptible world) have been their second album. Having helped myself, I thought that it was only fair to give something back…. so here are the best of my honest impressions of Cay from the time things looked good for them. If it keeps the best bits of the memory alive and is kind enough to the rest, that should suffice.

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