World/Inferno Friendship Society - All Borders Are Porous to Cats (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

World/Inferno Friendship Society

All Borders Are Porous to Cats (2020)

Alternative Tentacles

All Borders are Porous to Cats is World/Inferno Friendship Society’s most concepty-concept album. Roughly speaking, the album is about The Cat in the Hat (but not the one from Dr. Seuss… cough… cough…ahem…) sneaking across Trump’s border wall only to be arrested by ICE and put on trial for his crimes. Then, lead singer Jack Terricloth enters into the album narrative itself to plead on behalf of the Cat. Also, the shifting dynamic of the band their intra-relations is weaved throughout the narrative, often in deep metaphor. Also, Sly Stone is in there, too.

Being that the album is such a dense labyrinth, it’s no surprise that it was recorded over the span of YEARS in multiple locations by a lot of different musicians. To that end, you have to give a tip of the hat to keyboardist/producer Scott Hollingsworth for being the main hand that stitched all of these parts together. With so many strips of sonic cloth, you’d think you wind up with either a purposefully odd patchwork like Sandinista at best or a directionless disaster like Load at worst. But, check this, it’s neither.

Perhaps… astoundingly… Borders, while a dense album, is on point. There’s no wasted space here. To the contrary, the band uses the 11 slots here to demonstrate the range of the massive big band. Previous WIFS albums have focused on one or two aspects- somewhat accurately, Just the Best party was Inferno as a straight up punk band, Red Eye Soul was them as crooners, This Packed Funeral was Inferno as opera. Yet here, Inferno is drifting across their entire universe and also highlighting the connective tissue between the planets. “The Cat in the Hat Has the Right to Sing the Blues” find the band in full on punk-swing-circus style, calling back to the riotous Party. But, “I’ll be your alibi,” one of the band’s most soulful tracks ever, is World/Inferno as David Bowie as Sam Cooke. “The Roosters are coming home to crow,” which is propelled by a marching band bounce, is as much a musical as it is anything else.

Because each of the tracks here are so tightly woven, and because each has so many moving parts, this is an album that somewhat needs to be digested to be understood. Red Eye Soul knocked your head off from the first needle strike. But here, check out “Three Parts,” where the band mixes gypsy-punk over top of a polka womp-wamp-womp-wamp while Terricloth ostensibly tells the tale of the Cat getting clipped and talking about how the cat himself is a walking contraction. So, of course, you could leave it at that, or you could ask your self, is Terricloth really singing about the Cat, or is he singing about someone much... closer…? These deeply coded clues are hidden throughout the album and each spin can unlock a new mystery. It is funny that as secretive as Inferno can be, and as much mis-information as they spread, they’ll put their deepest confessions, and detail inner-band conflict, right there in bold print in the lyric book.

Because the record is such a tapestry, with sooooo many different instruments going on, this is clearly a band record, even if it was recorded in dozens of different parts. Still, that being said, the band’s co-founders, Terricloth and Hollingsworth, seem to be the core forces at work. The previously mentioned “Alibi” might be Terricloth’s best vocal cut ever. Long has he admired the Paisan crooners and the soul club kings and the blue-eyed soul punks. On this record, he moves to that same vaunted station, if he wasn’t there already. Terricloth knows that true emotion in music is killed by perfection- so, while he opens up and drifts back and forth on the mic on “Alibi,” he pulls at the heart strings while keeping that slight Cooke rasp in the back. Meanwhile, Hollingsworth has taken literally hundreds of parts and assembled them in to a high production orchestra. Hollingsworth shifts from opera to soul to punk and somehow ties them all into the same thing. Like Terricloth, Hollingsworth knows that sheer perfection is death, and he makes it a point to keep the music polished, power, and vibrant.

Interestingly, the album does has some grim moments. “All I can do to help you with your nightmares is keep you up late,” and “Freedom is a wilderness for you and me,” both swim in the negative. Usually, Inferno looks at the black reality or grim reaper and laughs before running away while scamming someone. Instead, here, they look at the void of existence and drink it in. “I didn’t plan to be around to explain the universe was made for you and me,” Terricloth says on “Freedom is a Wilderness.” You’ll note that’s both a hopelessly bleak message and a hopelessly romantic one. “I am the singing automata with bellows in my chest,” he calls out on “Bad Penny Blue.” You could argue that’s a good thing- in that Terricloth is doing exactly what he was built to do- or you could argue it’s hopelessly negative- singing is ALL he can do.

These contradictions, ambiguities, and secret messages are so thoroughly tied to this album that it’s more than a puzzle- it’s an album that comments on itself, on the band, on contemporary events, and hell, even, the knowable universe. Gears line up for a second only to shift away to find a new mechanism. Like a Swiss clock, this album is not easy to understand at first glance. But upon inspection and aesthetic contemplation, its complexity and ingenuity becomes apparent as it winds on. You know, some of the very best watches were designed by madmen.