Cat Heads

  • Cat Heads
  • Hubba (Restless) 1987 
  • Submarine (Restless) 1988 
  • (Ex) Cat Heads
  • Our Frisco (Twitch City) 1989 

If anything, this San Francisco quartet suffers from an excess of talent: three members write, all four sing. Hubba is all over the place, style-wise, from the agreeably noisy post-folk/rock of “Hangin’ Around” to the stately romanticism of “Final Letter” to the mock-country of “Saved by the Bottle” to the playful hippie-punk of “Golden Gate Park.” Most of it’s quite good, but the jarring lack of focus makes the album an unnecessarily distracting listen.

The winsome Submarine, on the other hand, wisely concentrates on the band’s strengths, sticking to more melodic material and allowing drummer Melanie Clarin (concurrently a member of Donner Party) to sing more. As a result, Submarine (co-produced by David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven) consistently captures the haunting melody of Hubba‘s best moments (as on “Postcard” and “Sister Tabitha”) without ditching the goofy humor (“Jiggy Sawdust/Gumshoe”) or the melodic rock edge (“Upside Down,” “Apologize”).

Though the band split up after Submarine, charter members Sam Babbitt and Alan Korn recruited a third singer/guitarist/bassist and Flying Color’s ex-drummer to record Our Frisco as the (Ex) Cat Heads. The inscrutably packaged and annotated album — an enjoyably casual-sounding set — is not all that different from the original band’s quirky electric-acoustic mix. Former bandmate Clarin returns to sing harmony on the most memorable track, the cheerfully self-mocking “Anti-Song.”

[Scott Schinder]

See also: Donner Party, Harm Farm, Flying Color