With her latest full length album, Cate Le Bon proudly celebrates the inauguration of Crab Day, a national holiday dedicated to the painting of crustaceans. It doesn’t actually exist. But does that even matter? Social constructs are meaningless! Take your clothes off! EAT GLITTER.
This was the artistic statement undertaken by le Bon’s niece, who devised the holiday as an act of rebellion against April Fools day. Inspired by this bright idea from a promising Dadaist, le Bon crafted a short, sharp project that’s brimming with peculiar ideas.
Built upon rigid, uncomfortable rhythms and a jagged toybox of musical instruments, le Bon’s brand of whimsy is as caustic as it is playful. Lead single ‘Wonderful’ emulates the chaos that ensues when a music teacher leaves the classroom, with mashing pianos and shrill marimba cycling endlessly as the track races onwards. le Bon’s vocal is a grating deadpan, bleating “wonderful!” with all the emotion of a corpse at the chorus; it’s a subversion of expectations that the album runs with tonally. The ragged edges of tracks such as these are made even more apparent by claustrophobic production, which places the loose vocals at the front, as the instrumenal edges jut out of both sides
Though le Bon’s giddy style has its charm, there’s clearly more going on within these songs than simple childlike wonder. The interplay between Stella Mozgawa’s drums and the layers of guitar and bass on songs like ‘We Might Revolve’ and ‘Crab Day’ add a great deal of power and detail, and ensure that these barebones songs don’t grow stale on repeated listens.
The album’s greatest success comes from Cate Le Bon’s ability to fuse warm melodies and heartfelt performances with this discordant art-pop backdrop. The close harmonies on ‘Find Me’ and ‘I’m an Attic’ creep up on you, offsetting desolate verses with soothing choruses. The glam rock sway of ‘Love is not Love’ is downright gorgeous, her delicate falsetto lifted by majestic sax and a wailing lead guitar that twirls around her throughout.
The cool, detached feel of this track specifically seems to channel Ziggy Stardust as well as Nico; elsewhere, le Bon’s wit and attitude reminds of the Raincoats. While she carries the weight of these influences successfully, her overly indulgent tendencies sometimes get the better of her, as with the seven-minute closer ‘What’s Not Mine’, which meanders around an unsatisfying guitar solo at its finish, drawing attention to its own meaninglessness in a way that’s supposed to be read as impressive (It’s not. It’s just meaningless). The same stubborn posing effects ‘How Do You Know?’, which trudges though a sexless riff for a whole minute before wheezing away.
‘Crab Day’ feels like a holistic album, moreso than any of le Bon’s previous work, and its best songs are downright masterful, with their epileptic shifts in colour and tone. Sadly, the album can be labouring and obnoxious at points.
‘Crab Day’ is available now via Amoeba Music.
This Cate le Bon review was written by Stephen Butchard, a Gigsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson.