Recorded in Los Angeles but retaining plenty of Welsh spirit with Sweet Baboo and H Hawkline forming part of her band, ‘Mug Museum’ is the album that should install Cate Le Bon in the heads and hearts of the musically and emotionally literate. It is a diverting and stirring album which can hold you captive for days on end. ‘I wrote the majority of the record in the home country but a few songs were finished out here in the run up to recording’ said Le Bon in the press release that accompanied the album. ‘I’m sure Los Angeles has bled into the recordings somehow but exactly how I do not know.’ While there is something of an eternal haze perhaps referencing the LA link to some of these songs, it still sounds very much like a Cate Le Bon record in the very best possible sense. Beautiful, shimmering songs that are timeless yet vital, fresh but brilliantly familiar.
It has been wonderful to see the positive coverage that ‘Mug Museum’ has garnered, including an appearance on the cover of the newly revitalised and really rather good NME. It’s not just the initiated now, it’s anyone with functioning ears and a heart. ‘I Can’t Help You’ chimes and jangles like ‘Marquee Moon’ at 45rpm, confirming that however wonderful ‘Cyrk’ and ‘Cyrk II’ were – and they were – this another step up from a wonderfully inventive artist. ‘Are You With Me Now?’ lollops arrestingly, perfectly capturing Le Bon’s remarkable dexterity as a singer The backing vocals near the three minute mark are utterly beautiful and cap one of the record’s finest songs off in style. Quirkily vintage piano clarinet touches on the closing title track add decoration to a song which seems wearily but wilfully lost, drifting in and out of sense but offering up the thought “I forget the detail, but remember the warmth.” Much has been said about how distinctive Le Bon’s voice is, but it should be emphasised, quite simply, how utterly magnificent it is too.
The thunderous chug to the bass on ‘No God’ has a certain late seventies alt-rock majesty to it, but the folkier melodies remain at play across the top. ‘Mug Museum’ certainly has a vintage folk feel at times, but the fact that this music doesn’t quite fit any particular box all that neatly is part of its appeal. There is an overarching warmth to her delivery that transcends the meaning of the words on occasion, giving the songs an emotional heft that offers quite sincere solace during darker times. In the same way I might reach for ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ or ‘Sea Change’ because I want an all-consuming listen, I now seek out this singular album. The magically delicate interplay with Perfume Genius on ‘I Think I Knew’, for example, with heartache at its core is an inspired collaboration, pairing two warmly emotive voices to devastating effect.
‘Cuckoo Through The Walls’ disintegrates somewhat disturbingly and I have a fond memory of flicking through the vinyl racks of Cardiff’s premier destination – Spillers Records – as this played, the stereo separation across the speakers in the shop only adding to the curious atmosphere. It was they who first introduced me to Le Bon’s work, persuading me to pick up her self-released 2007 single ‘No One Can Drag Me Down’ which still gets keenly played to this day. If you’ve never heard it, some nefarious type has uploaded it here. The journey from there to here has been joyous, with each release a clearly discernible leap from the last. By the time 2012’s ‘Cyrk’ came into view, it was pretty obvious that the days of being a best kept secret sort of artist were over. Where that album faded in with ‘Falcon Eyed’, as if we were simply dipping in, the big difference with ‘Mug Museum’ is the sense of poise. This album stands tall, ready for the world to take it in.