A genuinely off-kilter pop record that never feels too self-conscious or contrived.
Nick Levine 2012-04-26
"Cut a remote island in two and place one half to your ear…" is how Cate Le Bon sells this album. That's a pretty esoteric description, but as you listen to the Welshwoman's second LP, it starts to make sense. Cyrk is a curious musical brew that blends Velvet Underground-style shaggy jangles with a kind of bucolic psych-folk sound. There are also some unexpected embellishments: parping brass at the end of Greta, Mike Garson-ish piano on Through the Mill, and blasts of sax to round off two-part album closer Ploughing Out.
If the album's metaphorical land mass is remote, it's also rather eerie. The mid-tempo drone of Julia could soundtrack an age-old pagan ritual, while Greta is pretty spooky stuff for a song about a baby niece. "You existed in moonlight before you were born," Le Bon croons over a heavy fog of a synth line.
This ominous atmosphere is intensified by Le Bon's clipped, Nico-like vocals and largely ambiguous lyrics. The Cardiff-based chanteuse – a sort of protégé of Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals – has developed a set method of songwriting. She pens her melodies first; then she mouths the sounds that she wants her lyrics to emulate; but she doesn't finish them until the night before recording.
As a result, her songs don't really tell straightforward stories; they paint impressionistic pictures instead. Le Bon's not averse to the odd nifty couplet though. "What I hoped for most / Was to be his greatest host," she sings on The Man I Wanted, a song which perfectly captures the thick, oppressive nature of romantic desire.
Cyrk is as idiosyncratic as an album named after the Polish word for circus probably ought to be, but it's not inaccessible. Songs like Fold the Cloth, Puts Me to Work and Through the Mill are underpinned by ringing guitar hooks and Le Bon speckles everything with pretty (if pretty unsettling) vocal melodies. The result is a rare beast: a genuinely off-kilter pop record that never feels too self-conscious or contrived.