Album | Cate Le Bon – Reward

According to Cate Le Bon a reward can be quite sinister, especially in these Trumpian times. “People hear the word ‘reward’ and they think that it’s a positive word, and to me it’s quite a sinister word in that it depends on the times we’re living in, where words are used as slogans, and everything is slowly losing it’s meaning.” Reward therefore is a meditation on a year spent living on a mountainside in Cumbria, building wooden furniture by day, while pouring her heart out at night on a second-hand piano.

Dichotomies are at play on ‘Miami’, where a woman from a small town in Wales sings about a far more cosmopolitan world over a chiming synth and saxophone. The piece begins and ends with what could be someone blowing into a large bottle. While that looks odd in print, the result is actually quite captivating.

The piano and synth highlighting ‘Daylight Matters’, a meditation on days spent in pity over the end of a relationship, “Why do they sit when your lips feel like stone, mouthing the lines, returning the air and they’re never going to feel them again.”  

Almost poppy in its presentation, ‘Home To You’ details the finality of an uncoupling, “last time for all time.” ‘Mother’s Mother’s Magazines’ is a treatise “on being around a lot of really fed up women.” One of the most intriguing elements of Reward is the use of instrumentation that ends up sounding slightly askew, like ‘Magnificent Gestures’ descending guitar riff.

While 2016’s Crab Day was a much more guitar driven work, Reward’s keyboard focus reflects the time Le Bon spent alone with her second hand Meers piano. Delving into a solitary time and a similar solitary recording landscape enabled Cate to hold onto the remote air she used to write this material. Time spent in Los Angeles trying to finish some of the songs didn’t work, there was a sense of fragmentation that didn’t occur in locales like Joshua Tree were it was easier to simply focus on the recordings.

For an artist like Cate Le Bon words are important. The sloganeering and sinister focus she attributes to the Reward just contributes to making it one of the more intriguing albums of this, or any, year.