Cate Le Bon

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Me Oh My (2009) , 6.5/10
Cyrk (2012), 6/10
Mug Museum (2013), 7/10
Drinks: Hermits on Holiday (2015), 7/10
Crab Day (2016), 6/10
Reward (2019), 6.5/10
Drinks: Hippo Lite (2018), 6/10
Pompeii (2022), 4.5/10

British singer-songwriter Cate LeBon sang gentle post-Donovan psychedelic folk elegies filtered through Nico's existential angst on Me Oh My (2009). Her vocal range is limited but her stylistic range is not to be underestimated: the songs can be conversational and timidly jangling like Sad Sad Feet as well as psychological and quasi-jazz like Terror Of The Man; equally engaging in the melancholy mode (Digging Song) as well in the ecstatic mode (Out To Sea). The structure and accompaniment varies too, pitting the country-ish Shoeing The Bones (reminiscent of both the Eagles and early Neil Young) against a catchy Eyes So Bright that borders on power-pop, while at the same time fusing ancestral folk and electric rock in Burn Until The End. Synth and drums bestow an almost parodistic marching pomp on the slow-motion folk hymn of Me Oh My.

Cyrk (Control Group, 2012) is more lively work that occupies the same intimate niche but reaches out more openly to rock and pop music. The bouncy and catchy Falcon Eyed steals the rhythmic idea from garage-rock of the 1960s. By the standards of the first album's naive simplicity, the piano-driven Puts Me To Work is a soaring anthem. The poppy Cyrk might be too facile, despite the loud guitar solo in the middle (and that loud guitar is a mixed blessing in itself - witness how it buries the entire second half of Fold The Cloth), but more complex instrumental counterpoint highlights the portraits of Julia and Greta (the latter all subdued and abstract until the circus-like trumpet fanfare at the end). The slow, solemn, hypnotic Man I Wanted and the oneiric Through The Mill revisit the simpler qualities that made the first album so precious. The dissonant, pounding, almost psychedelic Ploughing Out, Pt. 2 marks quite a departure from that sound, for better and for worse.

Mug Museum (Wichita, 2013) found a mature balance between imitation and innovation, assimilating and metabolizing the classics without sounding derivative and in fact sounding very personal. Even the catchiest songs rely on disturbing tricks, like the dueling dissonant guitars or the rhythm guitar playing the role of Maureen Tucker's drums in the Velvet Underground. The nostalgic I Can't Help You weds the Cars and Television, and Duke weds the Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart. Are you With Me Now is a catchy spastic waltz, and Wild a sort of Indian war song. The propulsive Sisters sounds like Neu gone synth-pop. Her voice rarely dominates but in Cuckoo Through the Walls one hears a cross between a funereal Nico and a "fatale" Marlene Dietrich.

Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley of White Fence formed the Drinks. Their first album Hermits on Holiday (2015) contains at least one gem: the lo-fi disco shuffle Hermits On Holiday, which sounds like a parody of Donna Summer' I Feel Love and Trio's Da Da Da with the rhythm section of the Talking Heads. The music is original, and brainy original, but each song embeds echoes of past styles: Laying Down Rock sounds like a lively remix of Roy Orbison's Pretty Woman, Time Between places a Nico-esque psalm into Electric Prunes' mass, the new wave of the late 1970s is reenacted in Focus On The Street, halfway between Devo and the Fall, and the solemn bolero of Spilt The Beans weds psychedelic phrasing a` la Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit with a Doors-ian organ. And there is also the demented blues-rock She Walks So Fast and the absurdist Tim Do I Like That Dog? (random words popping up in a lengthy surreal distorted guitar riff). Far from being just a detour, LeBon's venture into prog-rock is more intriguing that her solo work.

LeBon's Crab Day (Drag City, 2016) is a transitional album that rarely excites. The excitement basically ends after the first song. Crab Day weds spastic Captain Beefheart-inspired counterpoint and ominous Doors-inspired melody. The Beefheart influence also shows in the sprightly and quirky Wonderful and We Might Revolve, but rather aimlessly. The march-tempo melody of I'm a Dirty Attic has the feeling of a gothic musichall. LeBon experiments with odd hybrids, notably I Was Born on the Wrong Day (jazzy horns, repetitive piano figures and doo-wop era vocals). But too much of the album sounds improvised and unfinished, notably the seven-minute What's Not Mine that goes nowhere.

LeBon ventured again into prog-rock with the second Drinks album, Hippo Lite (2018). The deranged funky dances Real Outside and Corner Shops, halfway between Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu, are the highlight, but the album counts many brainy experiments: the lo-fi guitar serenade In the Night Kitchen, the broken blues clockwork Ducks, the Dadaist skit Leave The Lights On, and the lunatic singalong You Could Be Better.

Compared with the experimental sound of Crab Day, LeBon's Reward (Mexican Summer, 2019) is the exact opposite: a parade of simple, linear, melodic concoctions. The notable exceptions is at the very beginning: the trance-y Miami, which sounds like a cerebral and jazzy version of Enya . But then she enters a girlish mode and delivers the romantic ballad Daylight Matters, reminiscent of the naive teen-idols of the 1960s, the fragile and catchy Home to You, propelled by a Chinese piano figure (that a Francoise Hardy or Dusty Springfield could have sung in the 1960s), the cartoonish funky minimalism of Mother's Mother's Magazines, the Burt Bacharach-esque aria The Light, and the playful girl-group era You Don't Love Me. The one song that could be moved to the previous Captain Beefheart-influenced album is Sad Nudes, a somnolent jazzy shuffle. In between the naive pop and the alt-rock modes of LeBon's music sits Magnificent Gestures, a surreal cross of techno and blues with Hawaiian-styled vocals.

Pompeii (2022) contains mostly tediously and trivial synth-pop lullabyes like Moderation and Harbour, or even worse pretentious hymn-inspired songs like Pompeii. The collection is so bland that the slightly more surreal Dirt on the Bed sounds like a groundbreaking song, but it's only a folk-jazz litany.

(Copyright © 2010 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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