Cate Le Bon: Reward

Welsh songstress Cate Le Bon is back with a new solo album and her first with her new label Mexican Summer.  On the heels of her critically acclaimed 2018 album Hippo with collaborator Tim Presley (White Fence, Darker My Love, The Nerve Agents, The Strange Boys) under the moniker Drinks, Le Bon strikes out on her own again with Reward, a 43-minute excursion of distinctive melodies and unorthodox arrangements that will have a deep listener in bliss after the first couple of listens.  Le Bon has always challenged her audiences with sounds and compositions not easily assembled. In opposition to the modularity of an Ikea Kallax bookshelf for instance, Le Bon crafts blind dovetail joints of sonic craftsmanship in each of her songs on Reward, which is in fact a true prize for any willing to accept it.  Le Bon’s legato vocal stylings round the ears of even the most acute critics.  Her arrangements recall Slapp Happy and Henry Cow era complexity and unorthodoxy while revising their overt political nature in favor of a more surreal rendering. In an almost Haikiu manner the lead track on the album “Miami” is composed of but 7 lines:

Decorate your own discord, Miami
Never be the same again, no way
Falling skies that people uphold
Move with me
Love neglected by reward,
Okay
Miami…

Her words are undoubtedly poetic and unquestionably her own in style and content.  Beware Reward is anything but a pop album while lyrically resonating in singular fashion.  No song embodies this aesthetic more than “Magnificent Gestures” whose multilayer notation finds the listen caught at a musical crossroads between odd tempos and equally challenging melodies.

Truly I like to dream
Romance is company
Permeates the concrete graft
Puts my head in a car park.”

If you are asking yourself, “what the fuck” then you are not alone.  You are in good company. Embrace the

“…skip, drip, drip, drip
Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip
Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip

It is with each drip that we draw closer to her intention of surreal imagery and scattered lyricism.  The challenge of getting to the heart of her songwriting is never more present.

Finally, Le Bon sends us off with her farewell “Meet the Man”, the final track on the album and an homage of sorts.  She speaks the lyrics in her Welsh toned tongue alongside a repetitive horn sequence:

Back to life, we have no means
Love is good
Love is ancient to me
Love is you
Love is beautiful to me
(Love is)
Love is you.

Love is you. Love is all of us.  Love is the album Le Bon has crafted with care and intentionality that does not get consumed without effort or a love for what she has made for us.  Love does not come easily, it take work and will Reward those willing to put forth the effort.

Rating: 8.8/10

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