Cate Le Bon’s surname could mislead some. Seeing as another, unrelated Le Bon fronted Duran Duran, this Welsh chanteuse Le Bon may cause a curious listener or new releases browser to make assumptions and anticipate another La Roux style songstress; one final ’80s throwback revivalist to make the Delorean crash. Although Le Bon got her break collaborating with Super Furry Animals leader Gruff Rhys on his ’80s coated side-project Neon Neon (who, incidentally, released a concept album on the maker of the Delorean), Le Bon’s own music is free of any such synthetically poppy sensibilities. As with her debut Me Oh My and again on current release Cyrk, Le Bon shows a promising step in a more challenging sound, one that lands — finally — on the right side of freak folk.
2010’s Me Oh My, in spite of having moments, was a fairly low-key outing. Cyrk lets you know it will be heavier from the outset with the faded in and fuzzy “Falcon Eyed”. This is ’60s psychedelia with nary a trapping of nostalgia or an over-eagerness to sound retro. It is just a simple enhancement of a vintage sound being pushed forward into an even stranger terrain. More recent reference points (Stereolab and Broadcast come to mind) serve more as insinuations. Le Bon has a voice all her own, enchanting and wise. At times, she sounds like a seer, as on “Fold the Cloth” when she sings, “When looking south to all the people on the ground / It’s too late to come around / Put your belly to your chest and see how close we are.”
Some of the Me Oh My gentleness is still intact, on first single “Puts Me to Work” in particular. Yet even then, all of its elements — the instrumentation, production quality, Le Bon’s delivery — all sound more assured than on the already confident Me Oh My. Likewise, Le Bon’s voice shines brighter. That it lacks showiness or much exploration into higher registers allows the lyrics to be presented in a clear, well-phrased fashion. This method of delivery both gives the lyrics an air of importance that bares little surface explanation and keeps the question “where is Cate leading us?” open to speculation. Cyrk‘s title track may be the most outwardly experimental, with fuzzed guitar tones and Can references galore. With excellent closing cacophony of two-parter “Ploughing Out” Le Bone for best album outros of the year.
The measured unfolding of “Ploughing Out” works as a fine example of Cyrk as a whole. This is an album which gives nothing away too easily. At its best moments, Cyrk sounds like an edgier version of The Wicker Man soundtrack; the same sense of mystery pervades. Everything about it evokes swinging garden gates, desolate vales, and dusk setting in far too soon. Although most tracks provide catchy touches here and there, Cyrk has been crafted well enough to ensure it will reveal its pleasures languidly. Of course, this is all the polar opposite of ’80s synthetics or the soul-baring of many a singer-songwriter. Although Cyrk‘s general air (and its January release) could lead to Cyrk being overlooked for such showier stuff as 2012 progresses, at least we can thank Le Bon for imparting such hope and intrigue for a new music year.