For the many years Magnus August Høiberg has been active as a music producer and composer, his modus operandi has continuously revolved around flipping the tropes associated with pop and electronic music on their heads, making dance music suited for anything but dancing and pop music that never really popped. This is wherein the appeal of his angular and experimental attitude towards DJ’ing lied, however, in that the musician retained a keen ear for luscious textures and indulgent soundscapes that poked at the listener’s knowledge of pop music by taking constant, sharp left-turns that kept the listener on their toes. After representing Norway in the DNC World DJ Championships between 2006 and 2009, under the alias DJ Final, Høiberg adopted the moniker Cashmere Cat, a more fitting name that reflects both the fine, rich aesthetic of his brand of EDM and the artist’s crossbreeding of experimental and avant-garde principles with pop, R&B, dance, electronic, house, trap and other popular genres of music. Høiberg’s debut studio project under his newly-founded Cashmere Cat pseudonym arrived in 2012 with the EP Mirror Maru, a release whose brevity did not stunt its ability to convey the turntablist’s definitive approach to composing and production, establishing Cashmere Cat as an artist who had potential to heavily influence the direction of experimental pop music with his off-kilter stylings. Since the release of Mirror Maru, however, Høiberg’s output of material became rather infrequent, leading to the producer slipping from the music community’s mind for quite a few years, until singles started to drop in promotion of Cashmere Cat’s debut full-length album, 9. With these tracks recruiting a wide array of guest musicians, from pop singers, such as Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande and The Weeknd, to the bubbly, experimental production style of PC Music collaborator and fellow electronic artist SOPHIE, it seemed as if Høiberg was striving for a more accessible appeal to his brand of wonky pop music, and this does, in fact, seem to be the case on 9, or, at least, half the case. Indeed, the DJ’s attempts at accommodating his usual, whacky compositional style with a much more conventional approach to pop music doesn’t come as a smooth and seamless meeting of opposing stylings more than it comes across as a lack of commitment to either one approach or the other. Working party-friendly pop hooks into a disjointed compositional framework merely works to the detriment of both the conventional and unconventional aspects of Cashmere Cat’s songwriting on 9, whilst the efforts employed to make the album feel fluid and free-flowing merely lead to a project that is dishevelled to a disorientating degree. The salient redeeming quality of 9 is the admittedly frequent instances of Høiberg’s lavish production prowess, but the sonic breadth of a handful of these songs far from redeems the album from its underlying structural issues.
Much of 9 sees a collision of Cashmere Cat’s signature compositional quirks and the attempts at appealing to a more mainstream pop audience, which, for the most part, are handled rather clumsily, with the album’s lacklustre hooks not so much sleekly intertwining with Høiberg’s wobbly electronic passages more than they seem to be awkwardly tacked onto one another. 9 (After Coachella), despite featuring SOPHIE, who has teamed up with pop artists like Charli XCX in the past to indulge in a more experimental edge to their sound, is a prime example of how jarring these attempts at meeting two different worlds can pan out. The chorus provided by Danish electropop singer MØ is far from the worst on the record, but it certainly grows tiresome with the extent to which it is repeated, not to mention the fact that MØ’s performance is rather lifeless, which is only exacerbated by the fact that her vocals are processed to the point of lacking any character, with this being a recurring issue across 9 that leads to a handful of the guest singers being almost indiscernible from one another. When it comes to 9 (After Coachella), the first section of the song sees the inclusion of some of Cashmere Cat and SOPHIE’s trademark production styles that play out rather well, with the dainty xylophone melody that opens the cut instantly establishing the song’s individual place within the tracklisting, whilst the searing synth chords and glitchy rhythmic patches that support MØ’s generic, deep house playlist vocals add at least some vibrancy to these passages. The point at which Høiberg attempts to shift the song into its EDM drop, however, is an abrupt and nonplussing transition that sees the grating, synthesized clangours appear with no prior warning, coming across as if these two sections were composed completely independently of one another and then lazily stuck together. This strident synth section progresses into a disappointingly stale and trite drop for a Cashmere Cat song, considering the artist is known for toying with builds and drops (or lack thereof) in an innovative and often comedically contrarian fashion. Similar issues recur further into the record, with Wild Love amounting to little more than a few mere motifs, in the form of some pitch-shifted vocals, squelchy synth patches and directionless moaning from The Weeknd, that are loosely piled together to form what comes across more as an unfinished concept than a studio-ready composition. Indeed, the disconnected, messy and sometimes underdeveloped structure of 9 is translated to the listener more so than any other feature of the album, making this matter such an overbearing problem that it can be hard to even appreciate some of the interesting arrangements when they exist in such an incoherent framework.
One of the most striking tone shifts for Cashmere Cat marked on 9 is just how much Høiberg pursues a completely conventional sound at times, with a disappointing amount of the album amounting to archetypal deep house, EDM or pop tunes that barely convey the presence of the artist’s usual, niche style. Trust Nobody adheres so closely to the tropical house paradigm that it lacks any ideas of note that make it stand out as being a Cashmere Cat track, rather it seems like a song destined to be resigned to a three-hour long house compilation on YouTube. This is even more true considering that Selena Gomez’s vocal feature is so inconspicuous that there would be absolutely no telling it was her were she not credited, and the same could be said of Tory Lanez’s processed-to-oblivion, alternative R&B-tinged verse. The exact same criticisms could be made of Love Incredible and Plz Don’t Go, which, once again, manage to process the featured vocal guests of Camila Cabello and Jhené Aiko to strip the singers of much of their definitive styles in favour of fulfilling the role of the generic, R&B vocalist for a house mix. Plz Don’t Go can at least be given credit for the incorporation of some off-the-wall melodies and jittery instrumental arrangements during its drop, but this doesn’t reach the success of the album’s earlier moments. Indeed, the first two cuts from 9 display Cashmere Cats’ previous eccentricity in its most palpable format, at least comparatively to the rest of the record. Although a brief introductory track, Night Night meets some organic, ravishing string arrangements with some dense vocal tampering, which, despite being somewhat muddled like much of 9, are intermixed with a satisfying level of fluidity, and the same can be said of Europa Pools and its similarly pretty string sections. Victoria’s Veil, however, is by far the most successful cut in the tracklisting, and it’s likely no coincidence that it’s also the only track to not employ any outside help from guest singers. As such, Høiberg allows himself free reign to pile on the blips of jumpy electronic melodies, harpsichord-esque synth leads that could have been lifted from a Kate Bush song, and dancehall-influenced rhythms that build up to one of Cashmere Cat’s signature, subtle and subdued drops, which tease the listener by alluding to a climax that never quite materialises. Outside of these moments, however, 9 is unfortunately rather mediocre for the most part, whilst the worst moments are incoherent to the point of almost being disorientating.
Overall, whilst 9 is by no means a wholesale betrayal of the erratic and offbeat stylings that made Cashmere Cat such an intriguing project in the first place, the attempts at appropriating a much more conventional sound makes for somewhat of an identity crisis of an album. Comparing the idiosyncratic, electronic embroidery of Victoria’s Veil to the underwhelming and largely generic house sound of the last three tracks on the album conveys a disconnect on Høiberg’s part when it comes to his desired aesthetic for the project, and where its direction is aimed. The artist can be applauded for the odd instance of impressive sonic salad, but the messy structuring of the majority of the album overshadows such instances of interesting production quirks. Ultimately, therefore, 9 shows a Cashmere Cat who is unsure as to what direction he should take his music in, with the end product failing to commit to a single, coherent style, thus coming across as both confusing for the listener and confused itself.
The Vinyl Verdict: 5/10