A complex, eclectic return from a songwriter whose emotional palette always shines through...

With its unorthodox, off-kilter romanticism, the inventiveness captured on Cate Le Bon’s ‘Reward’ seems untouched by any norm or tradition. Each album release clearly represents a new challenge for her, and she continuous to turn things upside down and give conventional thinking a good shake up. The multifaceted nature of her album also scores highly on scales of consistency, quality and difference.

The Welsh artist has said that she doesn’t necessarily associate the word reward with positivity, but she sees it as dark and sinister, and in a world full of slogans, where everything is gradually losing any meaning, she perceives the obsession with such trends as one hundred percent indicative of our times.

Likely to derive from Carmarthenshire in Wales, Cate Le Bon’s eccentric indie-psych goes hand in hand with her recognisable accent. There is an eclecticism led by pop, electronica, folk and elements of jazz.

The saxophone is a key instrument throughout demonstrating a functionality that resembles the human voice, and a full palette of emotion and thought unfolds. Vocally, it bears a resemblance to Kate Bush. The soaring opening tracks ‘Miami’ and the single ‘Daylight Matters’ convey warmth and assurance the album definitely has a pop quality, even if it is a very quirky one.

High doses of intricacy and complexity are contained on ‘Reward’. It is a record that signals an attempt to find and hold on to meaning in life. Intimate and personal, it is also one where mumbling is the order of the day, and where a lack of clarity is desired, intended and legit.

But permeating the record from beginning to end is the complexity. Expressed through a number of contradictions in songs such as ‘Mother’s Mother’s Magazines’ tackling the idea of “being around a lot of really fed up women”, the track stands in stark contrast to the measured sadness of ‘Home to You’. Also playing with surrealist imagery, polarized effects are created between the biting, tongue-in-cheek nature of ‘Sad Nudes’ and the flowing ease of ‘Magnificent Gestures’, a song that combines rumbling saxophone tones and trippy Ska influences. The sensation is delirious, but clever and effective. The mood is rectified on ‘You Don’t Love Me’ with its clarity and in-your-face lyrics.

Alternating somewhere in a grey zone land of ambiguity, between dream and reality, there is an adaptability and it manifests itself in sparks of humour or deep sincerity, and between cynicism and vulnerability. The effects are profound.

Whilst the seeds to Cate Le Bon’s fifth studio album might have been sown on a mountainside in Cumbria and completed somewhere between Cardiff and Los Angeles, it is more than possible that this is what has contributed to its scale of complexity. But either way, it really works.

8/10

Words: Susan Hansen

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