Cate Le Bon‘s fifth album Reward was recorded while living alone in the Lake District, and it might show a little.
The follow up to 2016’s breakthrough Crab Day finds the Welsh singer caught between an external world’s impression on her interior life and introspection’s shaping of the world around her.
Broad strokes of the cultural zeitgeist appear throughout. In the ‘discord’ mentioned in the opening line; in the ‘hard beating bias’ that’s the narrative climax of ‘Sad Nudes’; and in the complexities of religion on closer ‘Meet The Man’.
But these lofty themes are the hues that colour Le Bon’s inward-looking musings. They tether a personable and vulnerable album to the here-and-now. They don’t hide its creator behind the monolithic considerations of our time.
Instead, Reward hones in on the mundanity of everyday existence and extracts from it the absurdity and majesty. The impermanence of arranging chairs (‘Daylight Matters’). The sense of belonging derived from kitchens and conflict (‘Home To You’). The faded comfort of odd childhood memories (‘Mother’s Mother’s Magazines’). Le Bon’s lyrics, like her music, conjure a sense of off-kilter comfort.
The interplay of Le Bon’s navel-gazing and the world around her unfolds wonderfully.
On ‘Miami’ she’s initially tentative; “I take some time, I have some thoughts”. On ‘Daylight Matters’ she becomes reflective; “I love you, but you’re not here”.
The middle passage of the album moves through the narrative collapse of ‘Here It Comes Again’, where it seems to indicate the gentle madness of extended solitude, and emerges into the sorrowful and frank ‘Sad Nudes’ – the honesty found in time alone.
Closing with ‘Meet The Man’s reflection on divinity and the challenges of belief seems the natural conclusion to the contemplation of Reward; a huge concern with global connotations distilled to its personal potency.