Cate Le Bon stars in her own folk reality

Life vérité
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  January 31, 2012

WALES TALES Folk songstress Cate Le Bon was not serious about music before hooking up with Welsh wunderkind Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals.
There is a trend among critics to describe the songs of Welsh performer Cate Le Bon as something new, but with a bit of listening the music of the 28-year-old songwriter is actually pleasantly familiar. A cross-section of Le Bon's 2009 debut, Me Oh My, and her new follow-up,Cyrk (Control Group), reveals an interest in vintage UK folk and ominously minimal psychedelia. So what's new? The folk revival across the pond is no big news at this point, nor is the renewed interest in psychedelia (which has been going on since the day after the original movement ended). It might just be Le Bon's realness that is catching people off guard.

"I was given a gift," says Le Bon of the genesis of Cyrk, which she brings this Wednesday to T.T. the Bear's Place in Cambridge. "It was a beautiful '60s Polish cyrk poster. The colors are just incredible, abstract and bizarre but really fun. It was an art movement in Poland where they would produce the most beautiful posters that would just advertise the idea and the entity of a circus but not any particular circus. It kind of made me forget the horrible bleak things that go hand in hand with the music industry and remember the things that made you want to choose to do music in the first place."

It's almost as though — just as the poster that embodies cyrk represents the joy of being without an advertised event— Le Bons's gift is her talent for living in the now. Plucked from obscurity in 2007 by Super Furry Animals honcho and fellow Welshman Gruff Rhys, Le Bon was not terribly serious about music before breaking into the global scene with Rhys in his Neon Neon project alongside American producer Boom Bip. "He's one of the most fantastic people you can work with because he's about as enthusiastic about music now as he probably always has been." For anyone familiar with the work of Rhys, an experimentalist par excellence, you could surmise that what he recognized in Le Bon was a lack of both pre-packaged pretension and contrived twee-ness — a balance that is hard to strike.

Cyrk continues the girl-in-a-candy-store approach that started with the Rhys-backed Me Oh My. Tracks like "Falcon Eyed" and "Fold the Cloth" embrace the rambunctious, fuzzy pop-psych spirit that Le Bon finds herself in now that she has more experience playing with a full band. The gaunt sounds of "Greta" echo the steely terrain of Nico's Marble Index, one of the key touchstones of Le Bon's vocal sound (the other is a lovely high range that blends with her lows). As Le Bon finds herself preparing to play songs from Cyrk live, she realizes that trying to teach a band arrangements when you didn't write anything down has its drawbacks. But it's also part of the fun. "I like to do it quite naturally and not kind of quite contrived," says Le Bon. "I always like recording as it is happening."

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