The album cover that graces the front of The Cat Breathes the Fresh Water is a barely discernible cacophony of red. “The Cat,” it declares in messy scrawl in the upper left-hand corner, before getting cut off by what can only be described as a vague approximation of a human face. On either side, two stars hang at a lopsided angle and a miniature cat hides in the empty circle of the left eye. Its whiskers are askew; its solemn eyes are pinpricks.
The album cover is akin to almost every single bored doodle you would see if you picked up any high schooler’s Algebra notebook and flipped through the pages. It is totally, completely and utterly offhand, yet its roughness beguiles the casual observer rather than repels. After all — especially in music — so rarely are you allowed to see art displayed like this: Stripped down to its essence, the seemingly meaningless byproduct of an errant hand and a wandering mind. The Cat’s convoluted lines call to you. Intrigued, you can only wonder who the cat in question is, how they can even breathe water in the first place and hit play on the first song. It is titled “The Cat Is Back,” and it announces its return with a buoyant:
“Yo! Homeslice G.”
The Cat Breathes the Fresh Water is the third album to come out of The Cat, a musical duo consisting of former Daily Arts writer and Ford senior Will Stewart and Dylan Trupiano, a senior at George Washington University. The album was released on Sept. 14, yet it seems that the origin of the album itself, its essence, was conceived during a sleepover between the two boys many years prior. A night that started with rudimentary piano banging and what can only be imagined as a pretty impressive falsetto courtesy of Stewart himself, and ended with the hazy emergence of what would later become The Cat.
The Cat Breathes the Fresh Water grows from this initial youthful exuberance. It’s apparent from those very first few lines of “The Cat Is Back.” “Yo! Homeslice G,” a disembodied voice calls, and is immediately answered by makeshift beatboxing, which then falls into a beat that punctuates the vocals with an intensity that belies the actual words themselves. “The cat is back, and he’s ready to rap” is repeated, climbing pitch each time until it reaches a fervor that makes your eyes water.
Musical experimentation for musical experimentation’s sake, The Cat finds a way to layer and stitch together a variety of sounds, textures and genres in the span of 35 minutes. The rolling beat that drives “Give This Cat A Slap” forward is interspersed with ad-libs as abrupt and absurd as Playboi Carti’s. The rage-infused electronic/rap hybrid of “Summer Sweat Mix” is a reminder (albeit a more subtle reminder) of Death Grips’s particular brand of industrial hip-hop fusion. “Red Flannel”’s raspy guitar hum is every Alex G song on steroids.
The album isn’t cohesive; it isn’t meant to be, yet, even so, the soft children’s choir sequence sampled at the end of the “The Cat Is Back” bleeds into the first few seconds of “Give This Cat A Slap,” and the acoustic trepidation of “Red Flannel” is picked back up again during “King of Downriver” and “Holding Me Back.” It holds together all the same. Maybe it’s because of the history behind The Cat, years of friendship between band partners acting like a glue of sorts, or maybe it’s because of the album’s own constant unpredictability. You genuinely don’t know what to expect from song to song on The Cat Breathes the Fresh Water, so you come to expect it all.
Above everything else, The Cat has created something that is genuinely fun to listen to. The album’s individual components — the mournful, autotuned tirade against a past lover in “That’s Not My Phone Number” (“How did you get this phone number, baby / That’s not my phone number,” the narrator croons, and the audience cries with him), the harmonious dance between deep electric guitar riffs and what could either be Bauhaus-esque electronica or a really out of tune piccolo towards the end of “Don’t Burn My Kids Shorts” — are each one more creative than the last. You can’t help but smile at the dramatically pitched vocals, at the unceremonious changes in rhythm, at every weird and wonderful aspect.
The Cat stretches their bona fide sincerity and musical expertise into grotesque shapes on The Cat Breathes the Fresh Water. What we know as music is warped into absurdity; the resulting carnival funhouse mirror maze reflects back a reality that is both familiar and not, colorful and vibrant in a way that compels you to just sit down and just soak it all in.