Shortly after Paramore released their triumphant self-titled pop reinvention, I saw the band play New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom. The opening act was a band from Los Angeles called Kitten, and I was immediately struck by how thoroughly lead singer Chloe Chaidez owned the audience — she had no opening-act jitters, and spent her too-brief time onstage flailing around with authority, jumping on amps and grabbing the outstretched hands of the crowd. Her band’s self-titled debut very nearly bottles that charisma.
Kitten essentially serves as a vehicle for the 19-year-old Chaidez, and Kitten‘s 12 tracks — some of which were tested on EPs — demonstrate how versatile a frontwoman she can be. The album whips through a host of different styles but maintains momentum, from the opening gasps of “Like a Stranger” to the closing caterwaul of the stripped-down “Apples and Cigarettes.” (It’s worth noting that the band has undergone a few lineup changes since its formation in 2010; three early members went on to form the surf-sludge outfit FIDLAR, and last month, guitarists Waylon Rector and Brian DeLeon broke off and formed their own, still-unnamed band.)
The thin layer of sonic grime that covers Kitten helps bring its disparate styles together into a cohesive whole, as does Chaidez, whose malleable soprano can pull off “anguished dance diva” (“Like a Stranger”) as well as it can handle “post-punk cheerleader” and “frosty shoegaze whisper.” She and her manager/chief co-conspirator Chad Anderson share writing credits on each track; her MIT-student brother Julian assisted on the breathy “Why I Wait, ” which brings to mind Kylie Minogue’s recent collab with Ariel Rechsthaid, as well as the echoing “Cut it Out,” which, by all rights, ought to be the goth-pop jam of the summer. The assortment of styles doesn’t feel jarring or craven: Instead, Kitten feels like a well-constructed mixtape, one where the song with the freestyle percussion and the one that vaguely resembles Deftones just happen to have the same lead singer.
Kitten is by no means perfect. “Sex Drive” has flinty guitar and a popping bassline that recalls early-2000s party music at its most louche, and the chorus pays homage to the same Herb Alpert guitar flange that serves as the basis for Biggie’s “Hypnotize.” But all that pent-up energy doesn’t go anywhere, and the lyrics consist of Chaidez squealing the song’s title and not much else. As far as callbacks to ’80s R&B go, the desperate “Devotion” works much better; its threadbare backing track is the perfect complement to Chaidez’s emotional pleading. Indeed, even though she was born in the ’90s, her voice fits naturally with the album’s more retro numbers; “I’ll Be Your Girl,” which winds around fluttering synths, could slip into an alt-rock station’s New Wave flashback lunch, while “Like a Stranger” and “Doubt” both pump up the bass on freestyle’s classic combination of canned beats and high-emotion vocals.
The album is at its best when it places Chaidez’s voice at the center of a guitar maelstrom; while the dance tracks are expertly constructed, she’s a killer rock frontwoman. “Kill the Night” combines those guitars with pummeling drums and lots of reverb, creating arena-ready bombast. And the album’s center point, the glittering “G#,” is a master class in post-Siamese Dream alt-pop; its deliberate march brings to mind the poppier offerings of Welsh power trio the Joy Formidable. But its desperation creeps in as the song nears the chorus, so when she eventually blurts, “See you all, see you all again,” it comes as a thrill. Surprise moments like that tie Kitten together into a just-messy-enough pop package that hints at future greatness.