Cate Le Bon, “Reward” (Mexican Summer)
On her fifth solo album, Welsh eccentric performer Cate Le Bon continues to expand her own enchanted musical realm. “Reward” is a touch more direct than past releases but shares the same subversive grace.
The record’s first line — “decorate the new discord” — acts not only as a motif but speaks to the subtle depth that lies within. From there, a subdued saxophone flirts with a flared synth and Le Bon’s pillow-y harmonies. Her voice is both expressive and airy and her accent accentuated when she sings.
On “The Light,” Le Bon discloses “I don’t need the poetry” but her introspection doesn’t agree. Even when just “mouthing the words” about “half-used” intentions, a state of “occasional bloom” is depicted.
At times she seems impenetrable, at others an aching vulnerability is revealed — at one point determining: “I’m a cross hair.” The intricate hooks also reveal themselves gradually, popping out of nowhere or unfurling deceptively.
A distinct sense of place and universality are both at play. That dichotomy is part of the draw. “Home to You” details the complicated nature of residence, redefining the concept as “an impasse under hallway ceilings” or a “drink from borrowed cups.”
The instrumental palette is just as whimsical. Elliptical keyboards flutter on buoyant basslines. A dewy slide adorns “Sad Nudes.” ”Mother’s Mother’s Magazines” reads like a Kinks’ title and starts out like a song from The Fall before easing back for a brass excursion. “Magnificent Gestures” raises the pulse. With an assist from Kurt Vile, Le Bon ruminates on a “teacher’s laugh” before torpedoing guitar shards take it all down.
“Daylight Matters” is the one to put on repeat. A sultry, almost disco sway meant for late afternoon drifting. Most of this is so pretty it could float around in the background without another thought. But the acute listener is rewarded.
Jake O’Connell, The Associated Press