Cate Le Bon Is a Gift That Keeps Giving
While describing Rock Pool, Cate Le Bon’s latest EP, the Welsh singer-songwriter referred to its four songs as the “killed darlings” left over from Crab Day, her acclaimed 2016 album. The phrase refers to advice offered by William Faulkner, suggesting that writers remove words or phrases that they find especially clever since what might seem fanciful to them might annoy or distance the reader. In the case of Rock Pool, it’s understandable why Le Bon might feel that uncertainty. The EP’s songs occupy an idiosyncratic brand of folk music that is meaty and lush, united by the elegance of Le Bon’s punctuated accent and the vague existentialism that haunts much of her songs. They are also beautifully written, masterfully composed gems that command your attention through their inexplicable lightness and gentle melancholy.
“Is karaoke taking up all of my life?” she asks on “Perfume Days.” “Is karaoke me in a honey trap? / perfume days are over.” These are the sort of questions that concern Le Bon on Rock Pool, a series of ostensibly simple notes in an argument about growing older while struggling to live fully. Yet, while these themes can be felt in almost every written line, they do not extend to the instrumentation. Her compositions are free-flowing and playfully intricate patchworks of sound. “Aside From Growing Old” sets the feeling of running in place against emotive, twangy guitar rhythms. “Rock Pool” is a grand rush of staccato, like a rumbling engine that drives uneasily forward. “Perfume Days” is a psychedelic and animated reflection of a life gone inexplicably stale. “I Just Wanna Be Good” is a quiet prayer for the gift of someone to love.
While the musical elements of Rock Pool endlessly impress, the most engaging and intoxicating ingredient is Le Bon’s humanity. Her vulnerability and insightfulness reunite us with feelings which are often hard to face or articulate ourselves. Seen in this light, the zaniness of her compositions stop feeling merely crafty and appear as deft simulacra of turbulent inner landscapes. At only 15 minutes, Rock Pool confirms what we already know about Le Bon – her talent is not only immense, but a gift to us all.