John Cale, improvisational viola player in The Velvet Underground and one of the finest musicians to ever hold a Welsh passport, has one daughter. Cate Le Bon, a singer-songwriter from Wales, is not that daughter. However, imagine for a moment Cale consummated his relationship with his stunning, icy-voiced Velvet Underground collaborator Nico. And that the resulting bambino grew up and recorded an album. You wouldn’t bet against it sounding something very much like Cate Le Bon’s sophomore album, CYRK.
With imaginary rock ‘n’ roll parents of that stature, you’d expect CYRK to be a dark album, complemented by a fair bit of musical experimentation, with a haunting, deep voiced singer melodically cooing about mad things. Pleasingly, CYRK is just that.
But, perhaps fittingly for an album that takes its title from the Polish word for ‘circus’, CYRK has a constant sense of mischief about it. Essentially, it is the soundtrack equivalent of a nautical-themed bric-a-brac shop, full of oddities and queer ragbag sounds.
Psychedelic pop songs in slow motion define the album’s beginning, with garage rock and scuzzy guitar notes rubbing up against Le Bon’s doomy tones on ‘Falcon Eyed’ and ‘CYRK’. Then Le Bon begins to sound increasingly and characteristically disconnected from reality, wistfully pondering “In the morning the universe shines from under her skin/A delicate pattern of places she’s been” on ‘Greta’, accompanied by peculiar art installation type hubbub.
Later, ‘Fold The Cloth’ moves things out of the garage and into a cosy living room, albeit one full of shrieking guitar solos and the lingering smell of sexual frustration and loneliness. Here, the influence of Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys, whose label the album has been released on, makes a welcome appearance.
Even backed by a band Le Bon sounds all alone, as if she’s recorded all the parts of ‘Ploughing Out’ separately; “On the last day of the year/I’m just happy to be here,” she muses. The album ends in a psych-pop cavalcade, as Le Bon sails out to sea with her weird and wonderful instruments, possibly on her own, which you suspect was her intention all along.
CYRK never sees Le Bon reach the musically dexterous heights of any of her fictitious parents’ output, but it’s still a raw, intimate and beautiful album.
Words: Nico Franks