I must start by saying I am a longtime fan of Cashmere Cat. I’ve been obsessed since the release of his premiere EP Mirror Maru and his earlier remixes. I admired his fully realized and unique sound, as well as a talent for genre-bending and creating compelling organized chaos. Yet once he started gaining a greater mainstream presence collaborating with numerous popular artists like Ariana Grande and Ludacris, I was disappointed by the way his distinct sound seemed to fade into the background. I began to approach his collaborative singles with skepticism, saving my excitement for his solo projects, such as his EP Wedding Bells. So when I first saw the number of collaborations on his new album 9, my immediate reaction was pessimistic.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of the album keeps his own artistic identity in the spotlight. In fact, he dismissed my pessimism within the first thirty seconds when he chose to apply a vocoder to Kehlani’s voice in “Night Night”. While part of me thinks he didn’t take full advantage of Kehlani’s talents, I thought the song as a whole created a powerful and musically pleasing sense of drama and emotional crescendo.
The next track “Europa Pools (feat. Kacy Hill)” is one of my favorites. The bass creates a deep echoing expanse which the synth production progressively fills up as the layers build. There is a gravity and darkness in its tone and mood which nicely pairs with Kacy Hill’s vulnerable vocals. The treble synths, chimes, winds and percussion create a sense of frantic anxiety and tension rather than a sense of light pleasantries which is a nice twist on expectations.
Unfortunately he doesn’t hold this stance for much longer, since the ironically eponymous track “9 (After Coachella) [feat. MØ and SOPHIE]” shows him shrinking to the background. Now I like both MØ and SOPHIE, but I think this collaboration lacked chemistry and quickly devolves into disjointed movements and stunted beats with a build that felt more like a trip-up and a drop that left me underwhelmed. This song also features the first of many jarring movement changes that feel like forcibly smashing two songs together. I might like the movements and changes individually, but within context of the entire song it lacks cohesion and polish. For instance, here the final movement is a fascinating combination of classical organ and strings lines with 80’s synth, but it makes the song as a whole feel like a flawed musical chimera. “Wild Love (feat. The Weeknd and Francis and the Lights)” is another track that suffers from a lack of cohesion and chemistry. The heavy-handed layering actually makes me cringe at times.
Fortunately the smooth “Quit (feat. Ariana Grande)” gives the listener a chance to recover. It has a distinct Cashmere Cat melody with fabulous winds, percussion and piano lines. After a few prior collaborations, Ariana Grande and Cashmere Cat now sound like an experienced team, since the smooth and melodic production seemlessly melds with Ariana Grande’s emotive vocals and phrasing.
In contrast, “Infinite Stripes (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)” shows how opposite sounds can attract. The silky smooth synths contrast pleasantly with Ty Dolla $ign’s textured vocal tone and lyrics. Yet where this song does disappoint is in it’s drastic genre shifts. It’s bittersweet because individually I love all the shifts. The throwback mo-town spoken opening is great, but feels like an unprecedented choice within the album. Similarly at the end the song drastically changes into what sounds like a cubesato reel, which again, I absolutely adore; however, it is such a jarring change it lacks polish. This happens again at the end of “Victoria’s Veil” when it inserts a sample from The Alan Parsons Project’s “The Eagle Will Rise”, as well as at the end of “Love Incredible (feat. Camila Cabello)” when it decides to imitate Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek”. Again I love all these choices, but wish the execution were smoother. Dare I say I think this album might have benefited from interludes.
Despite these jarring shifts, I still really enjoy both these latter tracks. “Victoria’s Veil” feels like Cashmere Cat decided to create the lovechild of Kandi’s “Don’t Think I’m Not” and “The Great Fairy Fountain Theme” from a Legend of Zelda game.
In “Love Incredible feat. Camila Cabello”, Cashmere Cat’s production, the accelerating tempo and Camila Cabello’s airy vocals and tone all join together thematically to express a sense of frantic infatuation. This song feels thirsty AF and I am here for it!
“Trust Nobody (feat. Selena Gomez and Tory Lanez)”, despite being one of the album’s singles, is another of the album’s weaker moments for me. Despite its catchy beat, it ends up feeling stale and lacking in substance.
This drastically contrasts with the final track “Plz Don’t Go (feat. Jhené Aiko)” which feels like the foil to “Trust Nobody” in more ways than one. Vocally Jhené Aiko provides an emotionality and depth I find lacking in the former. Similarly, Cashmere Cat’s production constantly evolves with each reiteration of the chorus and tells a compelling narrative on its own. It feels like a charismatic duet that draws you in and leaves you wanting more.
Despite my concerns and issues with 9, it is a largely successful project and well worth a listen and purchase. It showcases Cashmere Cat’s ability to stand his own amongst other mainstream popular artists and provides some amazing songs in the process. It is now available for purchase on iTunes or streaming on Spotify.