The third and final Freshly Squeezed release I’ll be reviewing this month comes from Riff Kitten, with the album Kitty Litter. Like Atom Smith, Riff Kitten is also a producer hailing from the United States, but unlike Smith – who has been in the game for quite some time now – Riff Kitten, the pseudonym of producer Andrew Reilly, is only just presenting himself to the world – this being his debut album. Having studied as a Classical composer, Reilly’s music reflects this influence strongly, and his music has much of a cinematic feel to it. In this case, that influence is particularly pertinent, as the album is largely being promoted as Halloween-styled music, right in time for the holiday on October 31st.
‘Little Dancing Skeletons’ begins by putting this Classical element on display with a sharp piano riff. The track definitely starts the album as it means to go on, and the minor tonalities and archetypal melodies create a spooky feeling straight away. The musical timbres sum up the exact ethos of his sound, with what sounds like a synthesised harpsichord (possibly created with a stylophone?) making the music sound both very old and also new. It’s not really a dancey track at all, but certainly has that kind of soundtrack feel to it – a good introductory song, certainly something that could accompany the opening credits of a film. ‘Hide & Seek’ has a bit more of a jazzy flavour to it – though still with the dark, minor harmonies and timbres. The vocals present this feeling well too, with even the lyrics carrying it to a subtler degree – every element coming together to bring this mood completely to the forefront. The mixing comes off a little bit choppy at times, but when it properly kicks in, it kicks in nicely, and gets everything moving to an effective tempo.
The next track is ‘Fallen World’, featuring vocalist Kumiho, whom we’ve already heard on Duke Skellington’s Devils, Dames N Debauchery. The spooky feeling penetrates in this one incredibly well – like you’re on a ghost train, or walking through one of those haunted houses. There’s some great instrumental contrast too, even featuring what sound like a theremin at one point. Then, ‘Nothing to You’ is the first piece to start off really sounding like a dance track, if a little downtempo. There’s a solid bass that goes right through you, and really great production overall; the track is very poppy in all the best ways – being exactly what pop should be. I especially like the piano solo, the minimalism of which is very effective – using only the elements necessary to create the desired effect, and not being at all superfluous. ‘Blue Moon Groove’ starts with a similar vibe to ‘Hide & Seek’ – being as bluesy as that one was jazzy; and like ‘Little Dancing Skeletons’, the timbres are ideally developed to sound both old and new. The track has something of an interlude feel to it, which explains its placement – thought it could still stand on its own. It’s incredibly smooth all the way through, never sounding at all forced.
Following on, ‘Where’s the Love?’ continues with this blues feeling, bringing in elements of country too, and thereby managing to showcase Riff Kitten’s ability to work with all sorts of musical styles and feels. For instance, the inclusion of a banjo, whilst fairly subtle, manages to be one of the most important elements in creating this track’s desired mood. There’s quite a fast tempo considering the standards for this particular genre, and one may also note that the Halloween, spooky feeling has completely gone by this point – which one may welcome or not, depending on what they’re wishing for from the album. ‘Star Saloon’ has been placed ideally in the tracklist, starting with very slight elements of the blues to continue from the feel of the last track, but bringing the darker elements back in, before crashing straight into the electro swing-esque reeds we all know so well in the genre. It’s a nice little instrumental – nothing too great or memorable overall – but I’ve nothing bad to say either. And then we have ‘Catatonic’ – featuring Alanna Lyes. I’m amazed at the amount of times Lyes’ name has popped up on this blog – she genuinely seems to be featured on every current release in the genre, only further solidifying her already fantastic reputation. There’s a good use of double tracking here, and the song also has a very strong synth game – especially on the bass timbres. The piano once again stands out – having something of a Nina Simone feel about it, which I guess is that Classical feel coming through. The only downside is the rather weird ending – the effect works in the way in which it was intended, but I just think it was that good of a stylistic choice.
‘You Make Me Dizzy’ has a nice onomatopoeic musical effect to it, if such a term can be put to use here. It really does make one feel dizzy; everything about this song goes round and round, at high speeds, with all sorts of ideas spinning around the listener’s head. The saxophone is clearly artificial, which is a bit of a shame, but the rest of the piece works well, with some noticeably Parov Stelar-esque vocal samples too. Next up is ‘Nine Lives’ – with its title of course fitting with the artist’s moniker. Again, the spooky feeling seems all but gone, but regardless, this is a great piece of electro swing. Not only – as with the genre – does it sound simultaneously old and now, but the piece even manages to sound like both old and new electro swing – as in, resembling the genre’s classic sounds of the past 10 years whilst also sounding very much like something from 2020. And finally we have ‘The Dirge’, which ends the way we began. Where ‘Little Dancing Skeletons’ could have accompanied a film’s opening credits, this could easily be placed over the closing ones. It even sounds slightly video game-esque actually – the choice of synth timbre is definitely somewhat influenced by chiptune. And the harmonies are suitably epic as well – sounding not just like the soundtrack of a Halloween film, but like the accompaniment to an entire fantasy world.
Riff Kitten‘s introduction to the electro swing world is certainly memorable. Whilst the decision to release a Halloween-inspired album may seem somewhat gimmicky, the final result is not, and manages to successfully demonstrate that Riff Kitten is more than just a one-trick pony. Indeed, many of the tracks will perfectly accompany the coming holiday, but many others could be easily played at any point throughout the year. I love the inclusion of Classical music as an influence too, even if only minimal, but the few moments really manage to demonstrate his compositional prowess. I, for one, certainly look forward to what the future may bring for Riff Kitten.
Written by Chris Swinglis Date: 2020-10-12