I must admit, I’m still not sure what a Crab Day is? Is it a day spent shuffling sideways? Is a Crab Day its a bit nippy outside? Is Crab Day when thousands of crabs emerge from the Pacific ocean and invade civilisation? Joking aside…. ‘Crab Day’ is the new album from repatriated West Walian artist Cate Le Bon, now residing in California. It is the follow up to 2013’s splendidly poised Mug Museum, whose stately artful rhythms and arcing Cymru-American tones housed Le Bon’s poetic couplets; it marked her out as one of the finest contemporary Welsh artists around today.
So if ‘Mug Museum’ was a carefully manicured portrait, then Crab Day is its weirder and more bizarre sister: Le Bon’s brittle subconsciousness being unfurled across at times preciously folky moments, at others jittery 60s flecked jangle backgrounds: from flights of fancy to rejection in love, to bonkers art pop, it’s the sound of a jigsaw puzzle being shaken up inside the box and the pieces being strewn across the floor. Sometimes it sounds superb. At others it sounds incoherent, slightly unfinished and willfully retro.
“It’s the sound of the ‘accidentally on purpose’ coming together of the right people at precisely the right time, in an environment that furnished and fuelled the abandonment we felt effortlessly. It’s a coalition of inescapable feelings and fabricated nonsense, each propping the other up” says Le Bon. See-sawing off-kilter lead single Wonderful is the embodiment of these notions, all jumbled up time signatures and jangling rhythms that feel like a boat bobbing across a bumpy sea with horns rearing up like the angry tides, “my hearts in my liver‘ sings Le Bon, sounding not unlike a slightly tipsy Nico being dealt illegal substances by Captain Beefheart. It’s the kind of barkingly brilliant pop she does so well.
The superb ‘Love is Not Love‘ meanwhile harks back to her earlier, more darkly folkish works; spindly guitars create snail trails across paving slabs as weeds sprout forth; Le Bon’s perfectly poised vocals may still be thick with her Welsh tones but they ripple with the ghost of Sandy Denny as she sighs wistful Cohen-like poetic words, sketching out how it feels to be under someone’s spell ((‘love is not love / love is a coathanger…’) and a love that only leads to dead end rejection. “I wanna make sense with you” Le Bon opines archly on ‘I’m A Dirty Attic’ as the theme of obsessive love and pain rears its head across this Plath-like self admonishment, while ominous Clinic like rhythms stride up the stairs into dark nightmares.
Elsewhere the picture becomes more sketchy. ‘We Might Revolve‘ has a infuriatingly repetitive childlike nursery rhyme quality with its insistent shuffle, almost comedic brass, and garbled refrains – it’s art rock but a particularly messy form of it. ‘Find Me’ also portrays this tiptoeing sense of self discovery but ultimately leads down dead ends, its twitch and ooh oohs trying too hard to be different, with Le Bon’s homespun vocals sounding like LSD influenced literature from the 1960s. It’s discordant and barely indistinguishable from the better tracks here.
‘Crab Day’ is an old holiday. ‘Crab Day’ is a new holiday. ‘Crab Day’ isn’t a holiday at all.” according to Cate Le Bon. Le Bon’s Crab Day is a place you’d like to visit occasionally but maybe not stay because whilst you will undoubtedly happen upon some wonderful views, sometimes its a bloody uncomfortable place to be: the sound of an artist exploring new terrains while falling apart in front of our ears. Its a curious oddity indeed.
Crab Day is released on 15th April 2016 through Turnstile Records.