by Max Kaplan (@kapslock3)
The song titles on Cate Le Bon’s latest, and most realized release suggest a peculiar intimacy: “Mother’s Mother’s Magazines,” “Home To You,” “Daylight Matters,” and “Sad Nudes.” Since the Welsh avant-pop singer’s last full length release, 2016’s Crab Day, she’s spent time making furniture in the English countryside, collaborated with White Fence’s Tim Presley on Drinks, and helmed the production booth on Deerhunter’s latest LP. On Reward, Le Bon’s experiments flourish and take shape without ever coming across as too busy. At ten tracks, the album’s immediacy pours forth with grace and sophistication. At the center of it all is a balanced Le Bon, a craftswoman constructing 43-minutes of an LP to burrow oneself in.
Reward opens with “Miami,” as Le Bon coasts down a sparse backdrop of saxophone swells, delivering the album’s first lyrics, bookended by the verses “Decorate your own discord” … ”Love neglected by reward, okay.” As the song drips along, Le Bon croons her final line of a verse, “I take some time/ I have some thoughts.” The drum-less slow-burn of “Miami” sets the pace of an album that marks the songwriter’s progression from her previous work which was marked by its angularity and abrupt creativity.
“Daylight Matters” and “Home To You” are the gorgeous, melancholy singles that carry Reward to where it’s at its most immediate. The songs play as vignettes of memories that will never come back, though will wrap you in their warmth until you absorb the sweet comforts of solitude. On “Daylight Matters”, Le Bon sings the haunting lines “Still ahead of the night, still never not there, and I’m never gonna be there again.” Reward is filled with imagery of revisiting an insipid past that you keep grasping for. It’s never clearer than on the matra-like outros to these two tracks: “I love you, I love you, but you’re not here. I love you, I love you but you’re gone” and “Last time for all time, Last time for all time gone,” which bleed into hypnotic grooves and fade away.
“Sad Nudes,” before you laugh it off, comes in as the chilling centerpiece that carries the weight of the embarrassment and shame that comes after heartbreak. Le Bon reflects on the “Sad promises from all the clowns you used to soothe” over a steady gathering of horns and strings coalescing around her. Like most of the album’s finest moments, the song is delivered at a walking pace, stopping only when the gravity becomes too much to carry, before marching on again.
The skittering grooves of her previous albums return with the fluttering “Mother’s Mother’s Magazines” and the frenetic “Magnificent Gestures” which harken back to her 70’s art rock influences. But it’s the more reserved “Meet The Man”, which offers some semblance of consolation as its ending mantra suggests over soft saxophone warbles: “Love is good. Love is ancient to me. Love is you. Love is beautiful to me. Love is you.”
There aren’t many albums that leave a thick silence when they’ve finished, but Reward does just that. The songs envelope, charm, and carry you somewhere else. It is also bound to be written that Reward is an album that feels intricately crafted, much like the furniture that Cate Le Bon has learned to make; but, it’s very tangible quality of the songs which make Reward a special listen.