As unexpected and irrepressible as any of the Shrimper label's late-'90s recordings,
Rat Cat Hogan's songs are like photo albums about people you probably
haven't heard of (save for Chris Walla). (Shrimper is an ideal reference
because it covers a variety of mutable, loosely drawn releases like
the Boston two-piece Secret Stars, who sang about their friends mostly,
but eventually broke up.)
Rat Cat Hogan are a two-piece multi-instrumentalist Herbert Bergel and drummer Robbie Skrocki with a number of outlets: they record film scores, help a label and play in other bands. But thankfully there is no indication they'll be cutting out any time soon.
We're Bicoastal, the duo's first album in about three years, refers to a dual NYC/ Northwest affiliation, easily parsed with references to Midtown Manhattan and Ivar's take-out fish and chips. Note also the city dog and the rolling-hills dog included in the album art.
This record not so secretly wants to be your favorite CD, knocking around in the car until at least every one of your friends asks for his own copy. With Skrocki's drums sounding like a gallop and then retreating to resemble some sixth-grader's gleeful approximation of thunder for the afternoon play, it's a certainty.
I've often read about the band's live show and Bergel in particular, the gist
being that such alternately sanguine and thoughtful story-songs destroy from
the stage (in a good way). And I can see why. Singing about the girl who brings
cake in bed, Bergel is chastened and wonders how she chose him in the first place
("God knows I've grown moody and hard to be around"). Whether hollowed out by
effects or noticeably straining for that high note, Bergel's vocals enrobe the
song, unassuming and congruent to the moment. (Unbunny's Snow Tires has
the same effect, singing about what came before, what was hanging over you and
what made you happy.)
Like the duo's Vitamins & Calcium = Health & Happiness (2002), We're Bicoastal combines slowish numbers ("Business Trip to Portland") and elliptical rockers ("Doctor Explosion"). The latter song just has to be a take-out from one of Peter Bagge's Hate comics: "Emilio said, 'Come on, chaval. Let's go check out some punk rock.'"/ He took me first to a dim bar and ordered us some cheap green wine./ He pounded his fist on the table ("Yes," I said. "I quite agree").
What this all feels like to me is smart indie pop, like the departed Vehicle Flips before their For You I Pine album; like all-out Beat Happening and labels that surround themselves not just with their friends, but their talented friends. The coolest thing about Rat Cat Hogan is that listening to this record will make you root around for more like it. And the Seattle/ Bellingham scene do people still say that? I don't know has some great bands that don't enjoy as much press as Ben Gibbard or any of his also-great side projects for example, the Revolutionary Hydra or Slo Mo Rabbit Kick. Think intelligent without the superciliousness with which some critics are maligning McSweeney's of late.
We're Bicoastal is either an excellent starting point or a notable addition (if you've already got Vitamins & Calcium …), with such wonderful choruses as "He took the blame for the rubber snake" flanked by Built to Spill guitar chords and, at times, actual punk-rock drumming. Remember how odd Rogue Wave sounded, pop from all angles, reminding you of your favorite songs? We're Bicoastal is a lot like that, except with New York blackouts, gentleman's coats and a cat named Juan Carlos. Oh, yeah, and Emilio.