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Synthpop Album Review: "Bodies Stories" by Still Life With Cat

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

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Overall Impressions

Still Life With Cat’s Bodies Stories is a concept album that examines different aspects of human emotions and behaviour through the lens of our bodies. The musical backing is intricate and full of fascinating, unique sounds while the lyrics are poetic and nuanced. The vocals are expressive and well-performed while the melodies are as contrasting and complex as the words.

Giampiero Mariani weaves together a sonic palette that has many layers within it on Bodies Stories. It mingles more acoustic sounds like guitar and piano with twisting, glitching and gritty synthesized sounds and mingles them freely to create music with auditory detail and ear-catching interaction. I enjoy the sophistication that Still Life With Cat display on this album.

The songwriting abilities that Alessandro Di Zio demonstrates on the album are impressive. He has a facility for wiring lyrics that are emotive and painterly. He uses words to create vivid, intense imagery and capture feelings with ease. I enjoy the craft and love of language that are in evidence on Bodies Stories.

Lisa Monaco’s vocal performances are expressive and powerful as they capture the emotional tenor of the songs. She uses her voice to skillfully reach into the heart of each song and convey the meaning of the lyrics clearly. The backing vocals that Marlò provides on “Heart” also add another fresh sonic layer to the music.

The vocal melodies on Bodies Stories are also a strong aspect of the album. I especially find myself drawn to the way in which they combine feelings of melancholy and loss with warmth and gentleness. The end result creates deep emotion in me and compels me to keep listening.

My Favourite Songs Analyzed

“Eyes” comes to life with solid, throbbing drums that move along with a shifting, interweaving sound. The gliding beat supports an easily strumming guitar line while Lisa Monaco’s vocals are clear and expressive. A growling, pulsing guitar surge comes in as the chorus repeats hypnotically. I enjoy the way that the vocal melody moves between warmer, more positive states and feelings that are decidedly melancholy.

The guitar jingles brightly in a sunnier line as the drumbeat skips along smoothly. An expanding synth line flanges in and out while a hollow synth plays a leaping pattern. The song drifts and slides before the darker, sharper chorus repeats with cutting, gritty guitars slicing into the music. The drama and power of the track grows more intense before chanting into silence.

Rich imagery abounds in this song as we see “chirping birds among the vernal trees” and the scent of baking bread as it drifts through “mazy streets.” The sensory experience extends to touching the sun and listening to guess “every voice, every little step.” I also enjoy the idea of the ”shape of noise” having its “own face.”

I interpret the chorus that repeats “coming in my dark” to mean all of these experiences and feelings flooding in to disrupt the narrator’s depression or dark thoughts, to give them something to look forward to.

The tactile nature of the lyrics is enjoyable as the narrator feels the ground beneath their feet and experiences happiness as they follow “just the sound” of children laughing and running the park. The narrator concludes by saying that “As my heart, I remember every beat” as it comes in their dark.

Hollow space and floating percussion is touched by an enfolding piano melody as “Feet” opens. A flowing, round synth softly repeats a caressing pattern while Lisa Monaco’s vocals ache with emotion. The vocal melody trembles and hurts and a fluting sound breathily moves in a pulsing line. String-like synth rises in woodsy sound, reaching and yearning, as the strong vocal performance adds depth to the lyrics.

The melody walks a line between more positive feelings and something touched by sadness. There’s a lost quality to the guitar as it roams through the music as the piano’s steady chords support the vocals and the drums skip along. The piano’s tragic, gentle voice closes out the song.

This song is an examination of the human desire to live and survive, doing whatever we feel is needed in order for that to happen. The narrator tells us to “be concrete, don’t fly through rainbows any more.” We are advised to plant our feet on the floor and “wait for your turn, stand in a row.” The advice continues to dress in “white, simple, light clothes [and] root your toes” in order to live forever.

Our narrator urges us to “drown your childish puppets in the tub” and take hold of our beliefs as they are all we have. The advice is to “be alone, be a stone” and “no matter” if the night is cold to “freeze your blood” and you’ll live forever. The song ends on a final parenthetical phrase, “Only one life."

“Lungs” starts off with minor key, distorted and trembling synth accompanies the tragic-feeling vocals, capturing the sense of loss and nostalgia in the lyrics quite effectively. A deep bass throb and drum pulse adds shape to the song and the guitar’s strumming adds density and texture as the vocals swirl.

The lead melody is desolate and troubled as the weight of the drums and bass adds a shadowy quality. Round, delicately touching synth floats as Lisa Monaco’s vocals are heart wrenching in their expression. The vocal melody is equally able to evoke mournful feelings and loss. The track suits the lyrical content ideally, so deeply agonized.

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Loneliness pours from this song’s lyrics. In an effective evocation of that state, the lyrics draw a picture of “half a bottle of water, a pair of glasses, a wooden brown chair, cheap dirty curtains” like an austere motel room. I also like the mention of a “sweetish warm smell.”

The lack of possessions that the lyrics discuss also adds to the emotion as the narrator only has "a coat in the wardrobe, two coins in my pocket, a ring on my finger.” Our narrator tells the other person not to breathe at all. She asks them to give up and “fade in the shadow” since if they’re alone, so is she.

Static crackle, distant gentle tapping and a windy howl is broken into by a steady, distant oscillation as “Brain” commences. Lisa Monaco's trembling, delicate voice carries the poetic lyrics over the gentle piano. The distant oscillation goes on around the slow, wandering melody that contains both positive and mournful feelings.

I enjoy the duality the melody represents. The piano carries a gliding melody, warm and pained, as the oscillations and soft tapping sounds drift. The vocals are broken apart and the piano’s fragile beauty supports the melody as it ambiguously moves between feelings while a vocal sample cuts in and fades.

The chaotic, fleeting nature of human existence and the hidden energies of the universe are examined in the song’s lyrics. The image of a “collision above your head” as sparks fall “all over around your bed” seems to refer to an atomic event. The narrator reminds us not to break the silence or move.

The thought of how we’re all bombarded by antimatter “running fast through your skull” creates a strong image. In the chorus, the insignificance of human existence is conveyed in the line “you are an atom floating random, you’re a flashing little dot.” Again the song refers to an unseen impact that creates a “hyper vibration, blowing up the atmosphere.”

“Blood" comes to life as metallic, hollow percussion softly taps and the piano carries shadowed chords along with a drifting, ominous veil of lower sound. Lisa Monaco’s emotive vocals carry the song's strong images while a rapid, textured, arpeggiating sound ripples. The hurting, elegiac piano slowly unfolds its melody below elevated voices singing distant notes.

More texture is added by the stringy strum of a guitar and the piano's tempo moves more quickly. I am engaged by the gentle but mournful vocals is as the guitar, piano and climbing voices give the music a reverent feeling. The depth of the music compliments the power of the lyrics as a strange plaintive vocal sample moves in. Through it all, the piano aches and we end only on the delicate notes an vocals.

This song freezes the moment of a man’s execution, capturing all of its sensations and emotions. We see him standing against a brick wall with his hands “tied up with old electric wires.” The song creates an image of a pitiless sun “burning up alone” in the sky as droplets of his sweat “fall down cutting air to the ground.” I am drawn to the image of the drops “drawing a few stars” on the sand.

In this final moment, the narrator asks the victim, “What have you found In this ultimate glance? What have you learned?” The image of a gun being struck by a “ray of light” that marks an “inexorable end.” The narrator points out that nothing can stop the “rolling of time” but choosing not to believe in it.

“Blood drops slowly fall” as they cut through the air to hit the ground and “black birds suddenly fly from trees” as the deed is done. Again the narrator asks what has been found in the last minute and what has been learned. There is also the question, “Do you remember the child’s smile?” Now the executioner, a “lonely man with the gun” turns his back and the sun continues to burn into the sky.

A softly swelling, gentle sonic glow and a slow, steady drumbeat is joined by the guitar playing a warming and touching melody to commence “Hands.” The melody’s feeling is matched by Lisa Monaco’s gentle vocals and Cristina Santonastaso's airy, emotive flute.

The melody is so tender and full of love in a way that hits me in the heart. Marco Di Marzio’s deep fretless bass adds to the richness of the music here too. The flute is fragile and caressing while the brass sounds add further layers of touching, loving sound. The vocals capture the emotional weight of the lyrics well too.

This is an unconventional love song that begins as the narrator says that “I don’t want to fall down in here” as the other person takes their hand and pulls them “out into your heart.” Our narrator points out that there are “too many stars into the black night sky” for them to count so they ask the song’s subject to choose a star “only for me, me and you, you and me.”

There’s an interesting image in the midst of the song, the image of a “shiny bicycle at home” and all the narrator says next is that the fire came. It’s a strong evocation of loss and poignant emotion.

The narrator asks the other person to think of them “when you go to sleep.” The phrase “you and me, me and you” appears again as our narrator once more says they don’t want to fall down “in here.” The narrator says, “the water’s cold and dark, so call my name right now” as the other person takes their hand and pulls them “out into your heart.”

Conclusion

Bodies Stories is mature, emotionally deep synthpop that combines deft musical backing, well-crafted songs and heartfelt vocal performances in a sophisticated presentation. I enjoy what Still Life With Cat has done on this album and hope to hear more from them soon.

© 2022 Karl Magi

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