Every now and then, area musicians clue me in to some extremely interesting national and international performers. When Emily Grove texted me about this next group that she was sharing the Langosta Lounge stage alongside, it was with great enthusiasm that I delved into their minstrel-like musical revelations. The group is called Feline & Strange, and they hail from Berlin, Germany.
Steeped in the complex traditions of theater and improv, Feline & Strange proceeded to supply the Langosta Lounge crowd with a healthy dose of finely-crafted cabaret reciprocity not witnessed here until now.
Fronted by the sultry and vivacious Feline Lang, Feline & Strange wowed most of the crowd from their very first note. Lang, a well-known opera and tango singer, performs the group’s pieces in a fantastically unique and soulful style. As the band’s bio points out, the overall presentation brings to mind “spy stories and the remixed visions of science fiction.” Wrap that into the visual of Lang in fishnets, blood red corset, and ball gown and you have the makings for the steamiest “steampunk” impresario on the planet.
Discovered last year by producer Jason Rubal (Garbage, Amanda Palmer), the band immediately began work on an album with drummer extraordinaire Brian Viglione (Violent Femmes, Dresden Dolls). With the assistance of the German Bundestag (constitutional and legislative body), the group was also given the opportunity to travel the globe. Joining Lang is cellist and audiotorian Christoph Klemke. Klemke is a colorful character who plays havoc on his cello in the “Ren & Stimpy” uniform of Lederhosen, antique flight cap, and goggles. He also handles the group’s live percussions chores. Jazz funk bassist Marc-Andre Haller (John Cage) anchors the low end, interacting with an almost Harpo Marx routine as he lays down his complex passages.
This is a band that feeds off of a raw reaction in a live environment. And while at first it seemed that some in the Asbury crowd had no idea of what was going on, Feline, a skilled stage director, soon had the room focused and cheering for each and every song. The group traversed each arabesque piece as an individual act in a play, and it was indeed a very different scenario than anything we see around here on a daily basis. Setting up individual themes, Feline goes through monologue, interacting with band members in a thick and delightful European accent before computer-driven synthesizers lead them off and speed them on their way through jazzy, quasi-techno pop operas.
And the main concentration for the show was a group of songs off of their current record.
That platter is called Lies, and it brings a unique, nine-song perspective from the minds of a group that sees things completely opposite from the standard rock band attack. And while absent from the touring group, recording members Jesse Platts (piano) and Brian Viglione (drums) are well represented on Lies.
One of the more outstanding songs include disc leadoff “Cry.” Feline winds out of the speakers with eloquent tone in the vein of Annie Haslam from Renaissance. Cellos sear fiery lines across the horizon as drums and bass reach for rhythmic pieces of sky. The compositional tempo dances along the rim of pure experimental as Lang pours passionate plea into dark lyrical lines such as, “The doubt is my frequent companion, how should I know if the shadow I throw is the truth? Your words, (thoughtless bullets) tear into my heart, open up wounds that don’t heal whatever I do. I’m so damaged I just want to cry.” Cellos, percussion, and covert bass intricacies close out this somber and beautiful piece
“Telling Me” pounds and throbs, vibrating out of the speakers underneath communicative drums, grindhouse bass and powerhouse vocals. “Telling Me” is primal in direction, hailing Lang as a full-voiced focal point. With an underlying nod to progressive rock and roll, “Telling Me” stands miles apart with the addition of Klemke’s supernatural cello work.
“Real Woman” is a directional about face, utilizing whirling bass dervishes, spidery cello lines and the sassy vocal moxie of Lang. This song is one of Lang’s premier centerpieces. She runs the octave gauntlet with supreme ease as she lets you know in no uncertain terms that she relishes being a genuine female. Funky, sexy and steeped in the smoky world of a young Amy Winehouse, Feline stretches up and down her symphonic pathway of feminine sensuality like no one else could.
“Underwater” pours into the soundscape, launching languid pools of bass and synthesizer ripples. Lang’s vocal floats in the riverbed range of Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) as she weaves tapestries of tone rich magic. Hypnotic in nature, “Underwater” flows fluently within the group’s mighty current of compositional color.
Orchestral maneuvers shine on “Stop Asking.” Klemke takes center stage, brandishing his “Living Cello” and shaping the theme of this odd and beautiful piece with directional guidance, flair and talent. His playing style is both fluid and melodic, reminding me of Finnish cellist Max Lilja (Apocalyptica). Once again, Lang’s lyrical dance is both poetic and filled with wondrous dynamic. The structural breakdowns within the song pulse like beacons, signaling their myriad of revolving passages that move this poignant piece into your heart and soul.
The rascal on this disc is “My Big Ass.” Promenading along like the theme from The Grinch, “MBA” swirls into strange and cliffhanger-like bridgework before bouncing back into verse and Klemke-powered cello riffs. Lang rattles and hisses with delight. “Lie to me but don’t even try to keep me out of your filthy plans.” Feline’s bawdy vocal punches holes where needed, reminding me at times of the late, great Cass Elliot.
Feline & Strange are a bizarre and outlandish unit of anachronauts thirsting for a dominant creativity. Engaging live and on disc, nothing is lost in the transition between fan and musical effort. Their worldwide utilization of compositional experience rolls smoothly into some of the most interesting music I’ve heard in the States in quite some time.
And while this isn’t aimed at the traditional rock crowd, you can’t help but get caught up in the grand core vision that beckons you deep into the dark and gilded world of these self-professed extraterrestrians.
Special mention goes out to Emily Grove, whose performance with Homeless Apians was spot on. Emily’s music has matured dramatically in the last year, and her pairing up with this band went over like gangbusters. We’ll be talking about them in detail soon.
For more information on Feline & Strange, their new record Lies as well as the continued global quest for their alien integration of sound, head over to felineandstrange.com.