Release Date: Nov 12, 2013
Record label: Wichita
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Neo-Psychedelia, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
It’s been nearly two years since Cate Le Bon released her sophomore full-length album, CYRK, and in that time the chanteuse has stripped the remainder of her upbringing from her music. Raised in a Welsh farmhouse, there has always been a vowel-less sense of innocence and countryside twang to Le Bon’s work. With CYRK, we heard the avant-pop songstress delve into psychedelia while holding onto a playful, familiar ambiance.
Previously best-known for her work with Gruff Rhys and Boom Bip’s Neon Neon project, 2012’s CRYK release saw Cate Le Bon establish herself as a solo artist of real promise. That album’s homespun take on psychedelia is followed up by Mug Museum, recorded in California with producer Noah Georgeson (Joanna Newsom, Bert Jansch) and the help of a few friends (White Denim, Sweet Baboo). It begins with the charming Can’t Help You, which does a good job of approximating how Camera Obscura might sound were they to go through a Marquee Moon phase fronted by a Welsh Nico.
Even if not quite as quirky or captivating as last year’s great Cyrk, Cate Le Bon’s new album Mug Museum allows her to show a darker, more mournful side of her always-on-display personality. Written after her maternal grandmother passed away, Mug Museum might not help Le Bon evade the Nico comparisons she’s garnered for most of her career (especially as the album has been released so close to the death of Nico collaborator Lou Reed). But it adds another fine collection of songs to her already impressive catalogue, songs whose inwardly-focused subject matter renders the music more restrained than the punky pop of career highlight Cyrk.
“Los Angeles is a constellation of plastic,” wrote novelist Norman Mailer when describing theso-called City Of Angels. So it’s no wonder alarm bells rang earlier this year when Welsh maverick Cate Le Bon swapped her home of Cardiff for the west coast of America. Since her 2009 debut ‘Me Oh My’, the singer’s records have been full of bizarre meditations on death and mortality, wrapped in strange flurries of experimental noise.
Welsh songwriter Cate Le Bon returns, less than two years removed from her triumphant Cyrk. There's a dreamy, gauzy feel in many of the record's 10 tracks; Le Bon's recent relocation to sunny California—Mug Museum was recorded in Los Angeles—could have a lot to do with it. "No God" is embodied by a strong, rolling bass line and high-gain guitar; "Mirror Me" floats on faint, feverish church organ and sluggish, thumping drums.
Even those dumb tchotkes we own can take on a greater meaning simply by virtue of how long we’ve owned them. Sometimes it’s a small wooden cabinet filled with thimbles or spoons, or little magnets of all 50 states permanently fused onto the fridge door, or a binder full of basketball cards I can’t let go of just yet. For Cate Le Bon, it may be something as simple as collection of coffee mugs that as time wears on becomes a museum on a shelf, endowed with tiny memories of the past.
When Cate Le Bon announced earlier this year that she was packing up her red dragon bindle and forsaking the magical valleys of Ye Olde “Land of Our Fathers” (i.e. Wales) for the exorbitant glamour and glitz of sunny Los Angeles, it was hard not to sigh with weary resignation. Another rising soul swallowed whole by La La Land soon to reappear as another plastic fantastic puppet on parade, likely botoxed up with glow-in-the-dark chompers, lipsynching to some horrific EDM/folk hybrid whilst flogging an E! reality atrocity and a perfume range.
This is Cate Le Bon’s third album. She is a Welsh songstress who makes likeable if not life changing music. The wonderfully titled Mug Museum conjures all kinds of images. There is sweetness here for the biggest pop fans; there are some acute and chirpy guitar lines, which weave their way through the songs; and there is Cate’s down to earth voice gently singing over the top, a little like a night serenade to get the children to sleep.
2012’s Cyrk saw enigmatic Welsh pop purveyor Cate Le Bon channeling the ghosts of Nico, Syd Barrett, and Sandy Denny, offering up an austere set of angular psych-folk confections that sounded like they arrived via a Harvest Records time capsule. Mug Museum, Le Bon's third long-player, was recorded in the singer/songwriter’s newly adopted Los Angeles, but unlike her recently transplanted U.K. folk contemporary Laura Marling, who took to California’s breezy bacchanalia like a true Manson devotee, Le Bon makes the west coast bend to her will, allowing just enough sun to seep in to keep things mellow, while retaining the moor-bound, overcast patina of her Welsh homeland.
A folk-derived singer who doesn’t for the vast majority of the time sound like a folkie, if Cate Le Bon has inhabited any sort of niche or solid identity to date it’s one with a very movable centre, equally unfussed with pindrop introspection and ragged wigouts. Previous album CYRK was an ambiguous, rough around the edges Velvet Underground by way of Fiery Furnaces-influenced pastorality with a tendency to reach inside itself and rearrange its vital organs, given an extra shift off-line by Le Bon’s accented, distracted Carmarthen Nico tones. Resolutely Welsh semi-underground, then.
Cate le Bon didn’t give anyone much of a chance to pigeonhole her music. Her first release was a collection of twee Celtic-folk pieces, performed in Welsh – a debut release liable to weigh her with a certain collection of preconceptions and expectations. Since then, her recorded output has resisted what could have been a slide into easy categorisation.
At some point between making last year’s ‘CYRK’ double-bill and recording new album ‘Mug Museum’, Cate Le Bon upped sticks from Cardiff and relocated to the somewhat more glamorous climes of Los Angeles. Predictably, then, it’s all too easy to ‘find’ (read: go searching for subconsciously or otherwise) shifts in the Welsh singer-songwriter’s sound on this follow-up. The fuzzy 70s coating that covers most of ‘Mug Museum’ instantly sounds ‘sunnier’; there’s suddenly a sort of Golden Hour sheen to proceedings.
Existential angst and shaking figurative fists at the world through music are nothing new to fans who came up on Joy Division and The Cure. Are they over-the-top enough to inspire parody? Sometimes, yes, but at least you feel something when listening to them. They illicit reaction, whether it’s a genuine connection to some deep-seeded despair or facetious criticism.
As with much music by rising artists, Cate Le Bon's sound may not be wholly original, but the way in which she combines styles of the past is more creative than many. An unmistakably Welsh singer who cites Pavement as instigating her musical coming-of-age and who is often lumped in with the "freak folk" contingent despite not sounding very much like that scene's peers, Le Bon's music has grown a bit more Technicolor since debut release Me Oh My. Le Bon's second release, Cyrk, granted her a US tour with St.
In the wake of Lou Reed’s passing a few weeks ago, it’s tempting to decipher his influence over recent music. In the case of Cate Le Bon, you don’t have to search too deeply. This Welsh singer-songwriter wears her love of the Velvet Underground proudly, particularly on “Mug Museum,” her third album, which jingles and jangles even when the subject matter turns dark.
Cate Le Bon Mug Museum (Turnstile/Wichita) Cate Le Bon may have traded Cardiff for the City of Angels, but one thing's for sure, the California sun hasn't brightened her disposition. On third LP Mug Museum, she's still contemplating life and death, but her noir lyricism comes offset by measured doses of profound confidence. Guitar fires up "I Can't Help You" with Belle & Sebastian-like enthusiasm, leveled by Le Bon's soft, dissenting chirp.
Cate Le Bon — Mug Museum (Turnstile)Cate Le Bon opened her first album with the words “me oh my, my oh me,” an exclamation delivered without exclamation. Three discs later, she’s yet to raise her voice. Le Bon doesn’t make big songs, but despite the measured delivery, her miniatures feel important. Taking motifs from British folk, bedsit indie, and garage rock, her songs mix with any of those genres without quite fitting.She has a natural tendency to stand alone even as her band works up a froth.