BY RYAN BROSMER
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR

It’s immediately clear that Erik Phillips wants your attention. The singer-songwriter of Cat Be Damned set out to record an album that would take his formerly solo acoustic project into the realm of an electrified, full-band sound, and he wanted to make sure the difference was noticeable.

The new album, “Singing About Places I’ve Never Been,” is a homemade, self-released effort that explodes with opener “Five Minutes Slow.” Along with drummer Kyle Chappell and bassist John Kovalchik, Phillips takes the first song from its meandering and lackadaisical verses to simple, soaring refrains.

This measured aggression carries through to the second track, “You, Me, and the Holy Spirit,” which eventually mellows out as a reminder of the simpler, quieter origins of the band. “Places I’ve Never Been” is an ethereal instrumental interlude after the album’s energetic opening barrage, and seems almost too subdued in comparison. But patience is rewarded in this section of the album, where hidden gems like a simple banjo lick can introduce a whole new sound that still fits into the overall album concept. Similarly subdued “The Earth Don’t Go Around the Sun” is followed by a short, renewed burst of energy in “Sudden Moments of Self-Realization,” an explosive version of a song that was featured on Phillips’ solo Cat Be Damned album, “Pixelated Stuff.”

The album closes with shades of the late Elliott Smith on the aptly titled “Some Sad Song.” It stands in stark contrast to the opening tracks, but bookends what feels like a well-conceived and constructed debut album. Erik Phillips put his heart on his sleeve, laid all his cards on the table and is willing to shred his vocal cords to get his point across. It’s a strong  argument for everyone to stop and take notice.

The album can be purchased or streamed for free at CatBeDamned.bandcamp.com, and there are plans in the works for a physical release.