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Cate Le Bon - Reward (Album Review)

Tuesday, 04 June 2019 Written by Ben Gladman

Photo: Ivana Kličković

Cate Le Bon has never been easy to pin down. Having toured and collaborated with a diverse selection of musicians ranging from St. Vincent to Deerhunter, the Welsh musician and producer could loosely be described as trading in sprawling alt-folk, but that would only tell half the story. On her newest record, ‘Reward’, Le Bon creates a unique world indebted to new wave and jazz as much as it is to contemporary pop and folk acts—all with her own idiosyncratic twist.

As a whole, the music here is patient and rhythmic at its core. The majority of songs are underpinned by simple percussion and lightly syncopated piano parts that span the duration. Atop this foundation, pristine guitar lines come and go; expressive saxophones and synthesisers ebb and flow in the background but never overpower Le Bon’s voice.

She sings in a gentle, clear manner and, while reflective and happy to bide her time, she projects with a curious strength, delivering her abstract lyrics with conviction. And this conviction feels necessary given the subject matter.

As conceptual as the words are, Le Bon performs with such poise that we believe lines like: “Why do they stick when your lips read like stone? Mouthing the lines, returning the air. And I'm never gonna feel them again.”

The mystery leaves plenty of room for interpretation, but the gist is clear. This is a world filled with loss and loneliness, modern ennui (never more clear than on the heartbreaking Sad Nudes), and a kind of magical solitude. When Le Bon sings, “Half-draped eyes in a liquid night/ I fall apart when you do”, on Here it Comes, we have to wonder what “it” is. She would never tell, and part of this record’s intrigue is its lack of definitive answers.

Elsewhere, Le Bon departs from folk and gives us her take on new wave, and Berlin-era Bowie. Mother’s Mother’s Magazines and Magnificent Gestures take catchy, off-kilter basslines and layer them with flat guitars and all sorts of bizarre sounds. The latter song, in particular, wouldn’t sound out of place in an Iggy Pop album, with the kind of speak-singing delivery that oozes an effortless cool.

After all this, Le Bon ends on a personal and emotional note. At other times it feels like she is deliberately pulling back her feelings, but on the closer Meet the Man she finally gives in to sentiment. This gorgeous climax feels like a relief after the journey she has taken. A whole album’s worth of desire and love, barely contained by its structures, escapes in her final, desperate plea: “Tell me, please. Love is good. Love is ancient to me. Love is you. Love is beautiful to me. Love is you.”

Cate Le Bon Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon June 10 2019 - LONDON Village Underground
Fri August 23 2019 - BANGOR Neuadd Ogwen
Sun August 25 2019 - EDINBURGH Summerhall
Mon August 26 2019 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Cluny
Tue August 27 2019 - MANCHESTER Manchester Gorilla
Wed August 28 2019 - LEEDS Riley Smith Theatre
Thu August 29 2019 - CARDIFF Portland House

Click here to compare & buy Cate Le Bon Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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