It’s entirely possible that nobody represents the permeability of circa-now pop music better than Cashmere Cat. Cashmere Cat is Magnus August Høiberg, a Norwegian producer who started off his musical career as a battle DJ. (As a teenager, under the name DJ Final, he competed in four straight DMC World DJ Championships.) About five years ago, he reemerged as a SoundCloud producer, a remix specialist who piled euphoric melodic pings and wobbles all over big pop and rap hits. And this somehow led him to start making big pop and rap hits a couple of years later. In the past few years, Cashmere Cat has produced tracks for people like Ariana Grande and the Weeknd and Charli XCX and Tinashe. He co-produced Kanye West’s “Wolves.” And he bent his style to meet these different artists in the middle, accommodating their own sounds while still importing his own frantic fizziness. So that’s why he now gets to give us 9, an album packed full of ultra-famous guest stars that nevertheless works as an extended pop-music goof. The whole story of the guy’s career is like an ’80s comedy, a prank that somehow spiraled out of control and became real.
It’s not like Cashmere Cat is the only goofy internet agitator who somehow barnstormed his way into becoming an in-demand behind-the-scenes figure. Høiberg co-produced most of the tracks on 9 with Benny Blanco, a guy who was making Miami bass pastiches with Spank Rock a decade ago and who went on to craft hits with people like Katy Perry and Maroon 5. But more than most of the people who have become cogs in the pop-music machine over the years, Høiberg has kept the goofiest elements of his musical personality intact. And so 9 takes these big pop stars and gives them real melodies to sing and feelings to convey while trapping them in cotton-candy forests, surrounding them with maximalist sugar-rush productions that leave your head spinning because they’ve got so much going on.
Consider “9 (After Coachella),” the album’s most recent single. The first thing we hear is a mad, zippy refrain of xylophone plinks. Soon enough, the Danish pop star MØ comes in, moaning strange and heartbroken come-ons (“I like the way your body moves / I like the way you spread confusion”). And then the drop comes in, just like it did on the biggest song MØ has ever sung, Major Lazer’s “Lean On.” This time, though, the drop is a hectic experimental cascade of bell-dongs and crunching noises. It probably comes from London prankster SOPHIE, the song’s co-producer. Like SOPHIE, Cashmere Cat is a believer in dizzily busy cartoon-pop effects. Unlike SOPHIE, though, Cashmere Cat tends to make sure that there’s an actual song underlying all of it.
And so the whole album exists at some strange intersection between craft and bright-plastic goofiness. “Wild Love” is a tender, heartfelt duet between the Weeknd and the Mario-jumping sound effect. “Quit” is a soft and gorgeous Ariana Grande song, but its drop feels like falling into a pillowy ball pit at a chain restaurant in heaven. “Plz Don’t Go” has Jhené Aiko sounding typically languid until the beat stretches and scrambles and twists her voice like Silly Putty. “Victoria’s Veil,” the album’s one no-guest-singers instrumental (and the only one that Cashmere Cat produced entirely by himself) is practically a futuristic K-pop remix of Aphex Twin’s “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball.” Heard all together, 9 is a dazed, overjoyed festival-pop take on one of those movies where Steven Soderbergh would cast all these movie stars in what amounted to a bleak European art film. I like the way Cashmere Cat moves. I like the way he spreads confusion.
9 is out 4/28 on Mad Love/Interscope.
Other albums of note out today:
• Gorillaz’ long-awaited guest-heavy comeback Humanz.
• Feist’s thoughtful slow-burn return Pleasure.
• Mary J. Blige’s as-yet-unheard soul ripper Soul Of A Woman.
• Thurston Moore’s ringing, gorgeous, expansive Rock ‘N’ Roll Consciousness.
• Sylvan Esso’s folky dance-pop party What Now.
• Willie Nelson’s thoughtful, wizened God’s Problem Child.
• Indie supergroup BNQT’s debut Volume 1.
• Mew’s kaleidoscopic progger Visuals.
• Mark Lanegan band’s grizzled synthetic rocker Gargoyle.
• The New Year’s spacious slowcore return Snow.
• WALL’s excellent post-hardcore chug-roar Untitled.
• AD’s Compton rap headslap The Last Of The ’80s.
• Lone’s abstract electronic LP Ambivert Tools Vol. 1.
• The Poison Arrows’ tangled, brooding post-rocker No Known Note.
• Los Angeles Police Department’s lush-but-scrappy self-titled album.
• Wilsen’s graceful, tender I Go Missing In My Sleep.
• Shugo Tokumaru’s lush, stitched-together TOSS.
• Morning Transportation’s eclectic indie-popper Salivating For Symbiosis.
• Laser Background’s knotty psych-popper Dark Nuclear Bogs.
• Juliana Hatfield’s crowdfunded, Trump-slamming Pussycat.
• Bill Baird’s simultaneous psych-rock albums Easy Machines and Baby Blue Abyss.
• Colin Stetson’s extended abstract honk All This I Do For Glory.
• Ryuichi Sakamoto’s new age return async.
• Cataldo’s wistful, understated indie rocker Keepers.
• Looking For An Answer’s grindcore spazzout Dios Carne.
• Sarcasm’s melodic death metaller Within The Sphere Of Ethereal Minds.
• Life Of Agony’s metalcore burner A Place Where There’s No More Pain.
• The Cranberries’ dreamy, lingering, zombified unplugged hits collection Something Else.
• Sufjan Stevens’ concert recording Carrie & Lowell Live.
• The soundtrack to the movie The Circle.
• Skating Polly’s New Trick EP.
• Blessed’s II EP.
• Wilding’s Secular Music EP.
• Mike Edge’s self-titled EP.