With Sun, her ninth album as Cat Power, soulful indie songstress Chan Marshall has produced what is perhaps her most undaunted and thoroughly impassioned album in roughly a decade. It's no surprise that it almost didn't see the light of day, as Marshall has gone through several life-altering events since the release of her last album, 2006's The Greatest, including illness, financial instability, and a much-publicized, hot-cold relationship with actor Giovanni Ribisi. However, instead of debilitating Marshall, these developments serve as consistent fuel for Sun's resonant, emotional fire, adding up to a collection of songs that represent a dynamic snapshot of the singer-songwriter in steady command of her craft while still occasionally giving way to passages of thin-skinned, deeply revealing storytelling.
Aesthetically, The Greatest this is not. The sonic alterations Marshall has made on Sun are widely apparent from the get-go. Opener "Cherokee," an instant standout, incorporates several plush electronic elements (voice effects, a quick, cantering back beat) into the medley, and the effectiveness of pairing these contemporary flourishes alongside conventional keys and strings is a fine introduction to the unsuppressed sounds of Sun as a whole. Rather than recruiting the assistance of a traditional producer, Marshall essentially went stag, with only intermittent aid from Phillipe Zdar of French house band Cassius in the mixing department. This ultimately leaves much of Sun's production sounding quite sparse in comparison to past, more tonally robust Cat Power albums.
Yet Marshall's vocals fortify the music's backbone like calcium, and what the album lacks in embellishment it makes up for in heart. "Ruin" is a gorgeous ballad that cleverly doubles as a touring artist's travel guide and commentary on the privileged, while "Manhattan" is an elegant fusion of glittery piano tones and crackling percussion with the explicitly subdued chimes of Marshall's serene, evocative delivery: "Don't look at the moon tonight/You'll never be Manhattan." On the slow, churning "3, 6, 9," with its drunken overtones and angsty groove, she delivers such dour lyrics as "Abusive, a stranger in bed/Elusive, forget everything you said," and when her twisty tale concludes with a repeating, AutoTuned "fuck me," the mood suddenly shifts from distressed to dazed, succinctly capturing the hazy end to a long night of drowning one's sorrows in liquor.
Sun closes with a trio of tracks that couldn't be more different. The erratic "Silent Machine" is easily the album's darkest, while "Peace and Love" is its liveliest, with Marshall spouting her rhythmic lyrics over thick drums and twangy guitars. But it's the lengthy serenade "Nothin' But Time" that truly elevates the album. The song was written with Ribisi's daughter lovingly in mind, but Marshall might as well be singing to herself: "You got nothin' but time/And it ain't got nothin' on you." It's a fitting conclusion to an album whose titular object never ceases to rise after it falls.