Cate Le Bon
Format: Vinyl, CD, Download, Stream
Reward is the fifth solo album in ten years from Cate Le Bon, but after a three year wait since the sideways seduction of Crab Day, the title is fitting.
Five solo albums in ten years is consistently prolific by the standards of most, but inbetween there have been other equally experimental projects such as Drinks – her collaboration with Tim Presley – and also furniture making, which she announced to a packed out audience during her last solo tour, after a show-stopping cover of Last Christmas at Manchester’s Deaf Institute.
Tracks from Mug Museum and Crab Day garnered considerable and much deserved airplay on BBC 6Music, and it is worth reflecting on the fact that her music now eases itself – expectantly from the audience’s perspective – into the daytime schedule with ease. It’s a testament to DJ’s such as Lauren Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs, and to the ability of Cate Le Bon to encapsulate psychedelic discord with such hauntingly beautiful melodies.
Cate Le Bon’s music is a restless apparition, flitting in and out of this dimension at will, crossing one’s musical path in a variety of nuanced iterations. Jagged. Ragged. Jangly, angly, rhythmic and sparse… occasionally insistently busy. Her lyrics are as elliptical as an eavesdropped conversation, glass to the walls of the room next door – so close yet mysteriously elsewhere.
Despite her reputation for experimentalism – and even the work of the most idiosyncratic artist can become frozen and predictable in its own image – Reward is surprising. It is recognisable and yet it’s markedly different. It’s a departure from the initial bars of the first song. It’s snaky horns and piano, it’s solemnity and reflection… and it possesses as much absurd and domestic humour as anything by Beefheart. In fact there is something about the disparate, dislocated spirit of Beefheart that is echoed in Cate Le Bon’s playful approach to music on this album, and in everything she does. There is always the feeling that instruments and musical structures are only the beginning, that above all is ideas. Ideas that are realised with a roughly hewn stripped-back chic or expert precision, Mother’s Mother’s Magazines or Miami.
Each song on Reward feels like a communique from somewhere else. Many great artists build whole creative aesthetics on very specific sleeve and image art, stagewear, quotations etc. But to hear the unmistakable vocal tones of Cate Le Bon is to make contact with a very specific place and that transcendent quality is the rare hallmark of great art: you know exactly what it is when you hear it, yet it’s not a place you could find on your own.
Any artist whose work does not readily flaunt their inspirations is always of maximum interest. In failing to detect the lineage, originality is allowed to fester in the darkness, under the reviewers’ radar. Where influences pass wholly undetected, originality blooms. For a true insight into Cate Le Bon’s musical heritage, it is well worth checking out her BBC6 Music Freakzone Playlist from last month. It serves as a great primer to Reward and along with the album itself, it places Cate Le Bon at the vanguard of music as imaginative force: a pioneer of horizons ever-pushed-back.
Check out the video for Home To You:
You can check out Cate Le Bon’s official site here.
All words by Lee Ashworth. More writing by Lee Ashworth can be found at his author’s archive. Lee Ashworth is also on twitter as @Lee_Ashworth_ and has a website here. He is one half of The Manchester Art Authority.