Monday, April 23, 2012


‘The Welsh Nico’ was a short-hand description that sadly hung around Cate Le Bon upon the release of her debut full-length English language album “Me Oh My” in 2009. And for the release of follow-up “Cyrk”, out in the UK at the end of this month, it may still hang around. Listen to the vocals of ‘Greta’ or the opening of ‘Ploughing Out Part One’ with their thickly accented glacial intoning, rolling over words with chilly allure, and the German singer does indeed come to mind. But there is so much more to Cate Le Bon than monochromatic and heavily accented froideur. The Nico tag doesn’t convey the sheer vitality and richness of “Cyrk” – or indeed its enigmatic oddness.

Whereas half of “Me Oh My” tended to the quiet, stripped back and spectral – often just voice and guitar – “Cyrk” is more consistently expansive and heavily layered, and definitely a ‘band’ record. Opening with the taut straining-at-the-leash rock-chug of ‘Falcon-Eyed’ and ‘Puts Me To Work’ the album switches to playful and reflective for the wandering synths of the stately and joyous ‘Cyrk’. Sinewy guitar twirled around vintage synthesizers also feature on the later ‘Fold The Cloth’ and ‘The Man I Wanted’, haunting mid-tempo songs which both finish with frazzled drones and crackles. Earlier in the running order, the pair of songs named after women take the record to the astral plane, particularly the latter ‘Greta’, an out-of-this-world and downright odd lullaby addressed to the young keyboard player in the above video (her niece?) “
you existed in moonlight before you were born / from the turn of each calendar inside and outside / observatories clocked you in the skies”. Weird yes but it certainly beats a book token from your aunty for your birthday. Towards the end both ‘Through The Mill’ and ‘Ploughing Out’ have quieter, melodic almost tame starts but both ramp up the psychedelia with loud, crashing finales and curious lyrics about trophy bones and birching on the beak.

“Cyrk” is an album inspired by the Isle of Eigg, recorded in Cardiff, named after the Polish word for ‘circus’ but sounding like none of those places. It is at once grounded and otherworldly, cryptic and cool but curiously compelling and warm-hearted. Each listen pulls you deeper in, revealing more but telling you less. At the beginning of the last decade ‘New Weird America’ was coined to describe outer limits folk music looking at the world askance but rooted in heritage, myth and elemental forces. Welsh psychedelic music has been on a parallel course for many decades and hasn’t needed a short-hand description. Whatever the Welsh version is called, with this record Cate Le Bon proves she is at the forefront of the contemporary wave of that movement, despite whatever reductive tags get hung around her neck. Highly, highly recommended.

Cate Le Bon
Cyrk [BUY]

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