Cate Le Bon

Reward

Mexican Summer

May 31, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The Italo Calvino short story "Adventure of a Bather" concerns itself with the sudden disappearance of a bather's swimsuit and her subsequent alienation from the rest of the beach goers and fishers around her. What was supposed to be a scene of domestic retreat, her husband having accompanied her earlier, soon ends up a scene of existential questioning, and the cautious and paranoid search to find who can really be trusted to help her in her time of need hangs over her idyll like a bad dream. Reward, Cate Le Bon's magnificent and starkly candid new album, neatly dovetails with this story, providing a sonic guide through sudden moments of unexpected isolation as she effortlessly synthesizes the ethos of outsider art with the spirit of nostalgia.

The opening line on Reward, "Decorate your own discord," could be taken as a sort of mission statement for how the album's themes fall into focus. Her lyricism is taught, serene, and never heavy handed, all while envisioning just enough of a world that the listener is free to complete the interpretive gesture. You see a mist rising over the mountainous terrain of the Lake District in England, where the Welsh musician spent several months writing the album by piano. The brittle, attenuated nature of the genesis of the tracks seeps into the lusher orchestral arrangements, filled with wayward horns and bass that sounds like molten honey. While working on the album, Le Bon was taking chair-making classes and the particularities of the craft, while foreign to me, seem to have informed the piecemeal arrangement of the tracks. Every arrangement is finely sculpted with open spaces and enough distance between instruments to allow for the negative space to color the backdrop. Nearly every phrase sounds like it was developed out of loops, and it would be interesting to hear remixed versions of the songs with parts from different tracks stitched together. I would imagine it would cohere surprisingly well, deepening the internal consistency of the work.

The obliquely buoyant post-punk stylings and pastoral imagery immediately bring to mind the lighthearted absurdity of Cherry Red Records artists, particularly Reward songs "Mother's Mother's Magazines" and "Magnificent Gestures." These tracks are spaced between acoustic versions of Berlin-era Bowie meditations. The moments when her voice breaks with languagesighs and yips cooing like lonely birds in nests they are just learning to makeare transcendent, and they always take the listener by surprise. Her antidote to alienation is to jump in the water, get swept up in the stream, and find yourself removed from the pressures of ordinary routine. It's worth following. (www.catelebon.com)   

Author rating: 8.5/10

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