Track By Track: The Cat Empire Break Down New Album ‘Where The Angels Fall’

The Cat Empire
The Cat Empire | Credit: Giulia McGauran

The Cat Empire have released their ninth album, Where The Angels Fall. It arrives four years after the Melbourne party ensemble’s previous effort, Stolen Diamonds, and it’s the first record to feature the band’s new lineup. The Cat Empire continues to be led by Felix Riebl and Ollie McGill, who’re now joined by bassist and vocalist Grace Barbé, trumpeter Lazaro Numa, brass players Ross Irwin and Kieran Conrau, drummer Daniel Farrugia, and percussionist and vocalist Neda Rahmani.

Riebl and co. will take Where The Angels Fall on the road this September, playing headline shows in Sydney, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Adelaide and Melbourne. Find all of the dates here and keep reading to learn more about the album’s fourteen tracks.

The Cat Empire: Where the Angels Fall

1. Thunder Rumbles

The Cat Empire: ‘Thunder Rumbles’ is high-octane from start to finish. It’s got all the elements, and then some, of a Cat Empire classic. A New Orleansy sousaphone kicks it off, makes its way to a stadium Latin break in the middle, then keeps flying from there.

It’s brass heavy – played by the Horns of Leroy – drum heavy, and high drama. The lyrics are more or less a brawl of celebration. It’s going to blast out your speakers and from many stages for a long time to come. It feels like a great intro to what’s in store.

2. Boom Boom

The Cat Empire: This track started as a vocal hook by Felix, with Ollie coming up with the bass line and some of the other musical components that helped bring the track into a more bombastic and audacious setting – a tough electronic/synthetic skeleton when we were in the demo stage.

Once we got in the studio, we added the rhythm section followed by a session with West African percussionists Mohamed Camara and Boubacar Gaye of Ausecuma Beats. Then it was just about creating some chaos and colour – Afrobeat horns, a duet with Grace Barbé, samples, and tres – and it took shape naturally.

The song is about the walking dead coming back to life, a city of music reemerging. It’s about Melbourne in a way. One of the driving factors of embarking on this new era of The Cat Empire came from an internal will not to disappear in the post-haze of lockdowns.

The band has always represented live music, a place where people can get out of their everyday and celebrate. As people come out of their cultural hibernation, as they’re now doing around the world, we wanted The Cat Empire to be there, more bombastic than ever. ‘Boom Boom’ is our tribute to that.

3. Money Coming My Way

The Cat Empire: This song’s a bit tongue in cheek, and in many ways, it harks back to some of the first album antics. Who can afford the cost of living these days? Everything is so expensive. Really, we just wanted to have some fun with this one. After that, we added some crazier details, like getting the Heidelberg Wind Ensemble involved, who just so happened to be rehearsing in the space we recorded the album in one night.

There’s a moment where our producer Andy Baldwin acts out the part of a NYC police officer on the squad car radio announcing a robbery, which happened spontaneously and caused raucous late night studio laughter.

This one’s a single. In the context of an album that has a lot of depth and diversity, this is one of the lighter moments.

4. Deeper

The Cat Empire: This track’s a mysterious, sultry pop duet with Felix and Grace Barbé as vocalists. The song itself was written late one night at a piano, but really came to life when Ollie McGill added his electronic and synthetic ideas. The rhythm section played over that bed to give the song its organic elements. There’s a tres break and a trumpet solo that features the Cuban trumpeter Lazaro Numa, whose sound is a big part of the band’s new character.

Production-wise, ‘Deeper’ swims and cuts at different points but it’s brought together by the chorus, which is undoubtedly the album’s biggest earworm. There’s something fresh and classic about this one. It’s a very unique moment on the album.

5. Owl

The Cat Empire: This is the most epic, expansive song on the album, and maybe one of the most ambitious we’ve ever recorded. With full rhythm section, symphonic strings, grand piano, eight tearing horns, flamenco guitar, percussion, palmas, Cuban percussion, and a highly passionate vocal performance, ‘Owl’ takes flight.

It’s a journey song, a dedication to creativity, to tour, to performance, to loss, to life. The song starts with an inanimate object coming alive and a dream sequence based on an actual dream. But the lyrics don’t need to be understood – ‘Owl’ wants to be experienced in the rush of the music.

6. Dance the Night Away

The Cat Empire: This song, written about Felix’s six-year-old daughter Anya, is a foot-stomping 60s rock number, with the sole purpose to make people dance. It’s an in-your-face, electric guitar/tres-driven track that culminates in an extended, rambling, euphoric outro.

It was a lot of fun to play and features the bare bones rhythm section of Danny Farrugia (drums), Yuri Pavlinov (bass), and Ollie McGill (piano and Organ). We can see this one taking flight at sunset on a big festival stage.

7. Be With You Again

The Cat Empire: ‘Be With You Again’ is a dedication to Felix’s late brother Max Riebl, who died in 2022 at the age of 30. As an eight-year-old boy, Max came up with the name The Cat Empire, and performed with the band many times.

Instead of a lament, the song carries grief with a sound that is uplifting. The circular chords are given movement by a full Brazilian drumming section led by band percussionist Neda Rahmani, choral vocals, a wind symphony, a trumpet call that echoes Max’s performance in earlier song, ‘Miserere’, and perhaps the most authentic vocal delivery Felix has ever given.

This is not a song that will halt a performance by the band, rather add greater depth to it, and it will be played as a tribute to Max for many years to come.

8. Rock ‘n’ Roll

Felix Riebl: ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ started while we were working on ideas in my Brunswick studio. The chorus chant came from an old voice memo I had tucked away labelled “epic Irish” and the two ideas married soon after that.

Once I’d found the words, chords, and melody, the production team of Ollie McGill, Andy Baldwin, Ross Irwin, and myself started imagining a kind of cinematic road scene. Insert Spanish claps (palmas), strings, borderland Mexican trumpets, brooding drums and bass, piano, timpani, clanging thunder amps, and the song came to life.

It was a very natural recording process, clear lines, no second-guessing. We’ve played it at every show so far and it has that great quality of singing itself. The audience members hear the chorus for the first time and it feels like they’ve known it forever.

9. Coming Back Again

The Cat Empire: This track belongs to the moments in The Cat Empire experience where sound overflows. Blaring, cascading horns, a soccer stadium chant, rolling, epic drums, and a whole lot more.

In the crashing middle part of the song, the track goes into a blues rock section highlighted by a didge, played by “Tjup” Adrian Fabilia of the Black Arm Band, which breaks down into the song’s most bittersweet moment.

‘Coming Back Again’, which recounts scenes of people coming back from adversity, is about the perseverance of life and joy, in the context of loss, and the determination that that requires.

10. West Sun

The Cat Empire: This song, with its Aussie meets trad New Orleans lilt, is about sunset at a suburban back porch shindig. There are drinks, kids, animal babies, screaming neighbours, and plenty of instruments long into the night.

The song tips its cap to late Melbourne legend Gil Askey, who was a big part of our young musical careers, and whose song ‘On and On and On’ inspired many occasions like the one that the song speaks of.

Among the sprawling horns of the Horns of Leroy, soloing on trumpet in the middle of ‘West Sun’ is The Cat Empire’s long-time member, album co-producer and arranger Ross Irwin.

11. Old Dog, New Trick

The Cat Empire: This track, with its heavy Caribbean swagger, tips its hat to Ernest Ranglin and the albums Ollie and Felix listened to as teenagers. It wanders through a fantastical day in the life of a musician who’s been around the block, who falls into a carnival parade and talks with ghosts, discovering experience is the source of renewal.

It was one of the first songs we worked on in the writing phase, and its hook – “Old dog, new trick” – became a kind of unspoken goal for the new album and shows. It features Ollie on piano and Havana-born trumpeter Lazaro Numa on trumpet.

12. Oh Mercy

The Cat Empire: When we set out to record ‘Oh Mercy’, our intent was to create something genuinely wild and expansive. The result was a samba disco track that echoes a Brazilian street parade with lyrics in English, Mauritian Creole, and Portuguese. It makes you want to go to a roller disco each time you get to the chorus.

It features a Brazilian percussion ensemble led by dancer and percussionist Neda Rahmani, strings, layered horns, and the full Cat Empire rhythm section experience. None of us are entirely sure what the lyrics are about, but it comes across as roving festival chaos.

13. Walls

The Cat Empire: ‘Walls’ is one of those songs where melodic simplicity is key. It’s an instance where the demo, developed by Ollie and Felix pre-album, sounded very close to the finished product, minus the richness, depth and sounds that came from the in-studio performances.

When we were coming up with sounds, we made broad references to Aussie rock-reggae music of the 80s. Neda Rahmani’s voice can be heard in the Portuguese lines that echo Felix in the verses, and Grace Barbé sings harmonies and counter lines through the choruses.

In the context of an album full of wild and diverse colours and dynamics, this track’s strength is its musical sparsity and melodic directness, which allow the somewhat enigmatic lyrics to come to life.

14. Drift Away

The Cat Empire: ‘Drift Away’ is a dreamy island ballad that closes the album. The song was written in a day and came together seamlessly in the studio with the album rhythm section and West African percussionists Mohamed Camara and Boubacar Gaye.

It’s a love duet, performed by Felix and Grace Barbé, who also sings in Seychellois Creole. One of Felix’s influences in writing this song with Grace was listening to the 1960s album An Evening With Belafonte/Mouskouri.

The Cat Empire’s ninth album Where The Angels Fall is out now. Listen here

Further Reading

The Cat Empire Announce National Tour in Support of Forthcoming Album ‘Where The Angels Fall’

The Cat Empire Introduce New Members and Launch New Era With ‘Thunder Rumbles’

triple j’s Like A Version in 2016

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