For a folk singer-songwriter from Wales, Cate Le Bon does a good job of avoiding being what you’d traditionally expect. Her third album, Mug Museum, a psychedelic pop record which blows between hazy wigouts and 60s Parisian pop, is an upwards move for her.
The last statement needs quantifying; take a listen to album opener ‘I Can’t Help You’ or it’s slinking follow up ‘Are You With Me Now?‘. You can just see her lounging outstretched in a hotel in Paris, taking a long drag on a cigarette. While her voice only seems to have one tone and level of volume, she can hold your attention just through the sheer originality of her accent. Tom Jones never actually sounds Welsh when he sings, so hearing Cate Le Bon feels much like she’s singing songs written by Serge Gainsbourg.
Guitars chatter across this album while the bass bosses its way through the heart of everything. It has mixed results. At times it sounds like she’s playing with Franz Ferdinand in a haunted mansion for songs such as ‘Sisters’, providing a much needed injection of pace, but some songs plod without much other than the intro to make you sit up and take notice.
‘Duke’ would fall into this category if it weren’t for the cart-wheeling pre-chorus of “I don’t know how we have come to function so far away/ drifting and directless with the compass we’ve made”. And it’s that which tips this album in her favour. Her flashes of spiralling madness in the lyrics as well as her tone will make you feel like you’re looking into her eyes.
This isn’t an album of pumping, driving anthems or sit-in-the-dark introspective poems. It will be a little too poppy for some (‘I Think I Knew’, featuring Perfume Genius) and a little too psychedelic and spaced out for others, as on ‘Mirror Me’ and ‘Cuckoo Through the Walls’. The mundane yelp of “wild…wild…wild” on ‘Wild’ might make you want to switch off but stick with it.
This effort strikes you as the sound of an artist truly flexing her different muscles, seeing which one will give her the greatest advantage in a scrap. With such ragged-sounding guitars, you’d be surprised at how smooth this album is. There is the gentle lapping of synthesizer on the shores of her voice, and ‘Mug Museum’ has her creaking on a piano stool, with intermittent sustained drops on the keys.
Here is a young lady making her slow climb, and while this album doesn’t scream sheer brilliance it can haunt your brain with a black-and-white impression of her lost in the streets, Technicolor blobs of pink and red surrounding her, as shown on the album art. Let the boozy brass section of ‘Mug Museum’ usher you into just another spin.