LIKE THE MARY POPPINS of experimental guitar pop, Cate Le Bon becomes a fantastic arbiter of the surreal on her newest record, Crab Day.
While Mug Museum, the Welsh singer's nostalgia-hued, psych-folk album from 2013, felt grounded in retrospective thought, Crab Day cuts the gravity and hosts a floating tea party. Here, Le Bon playfully juggles sounds and often-nonsensical concepts to illustrate the invariable relativity of everything. Nothing is how it appears on Crab Day, and she seems to relish this whimsical, persistent state of unknowing. It's simultaneously mournful and joyous, riding on waves of chaos instead of resisting them.
The album takes its name from her niece's imagined holiday: "She must've been about four at the time, and was completely baffled by this notion of April Fools' Day," Le Bon says. "She just decided it was Crab Day and spent the whole day drawing crustaceans with different hairdos."
Le Bon celebrates this logical ludicrousness, cheerily calling to question the sturdiness of the foundations upon which we've built reality. She recorded Crab Day at a "castle" in Stinson Beach, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco—a landscape characterized by sheer cliffs, great white shark-infested surf, and the Pacific Ocean's limitless horizon. It's hauntingly beautiful, but like Crab Day, feels exhilaratingly close to wild uncertainty.
The album can be unnerving and even dangerous sounding, like pop music trying to hold its ground in the wake of a sonic earthquake. Gone are the comfortable, plush melodies of Mug Museum, where Le Bon's voice harkened back to the lilting, warm timbres of Nico and Françoise Hardy. She'd tiptoed toward this new realm with that album's "Wild," with its harsh, jangly guitars and ritualistic effigy-burning shrieks.
Crab Day begins with sharp, syncopated bursts of guitar paralleling another guitar's slithering amble—these two offbeat melodies converge as Le Bon wryly informs listeners, "It doesn't pay to sing your songs." The album's layered, off-kilter sounds can at times provoke auditory queasiness, but its intricacies are captivating—Le Bon's no longer trying to make art that's readily accessible.
"I Was Born on the Wrong Day," chronicles Le Bon's real-life experience of finding out that, for years, she'd celebrated her birthday on the wrong day. The song sounds like it's played from a mechanical music box, a nightmarish awakening to the irrelevance of what day we're born. When asked about the experience, she jokes, "Now I kind of have two birthdays, like the queen."
Exalting life's inexplicable nonsense seems to bring cathartic release to Le Bon's music, vanquishing expectations and welcoming a wash of uncomfortable beauty. She attributes this change in the tides to her work with Tim Presley of White Fence—under the moniker Drinks, last year the duo released Hermits on Holiday, another asymmetrical guitar pop record that meanders through detached avant-garde soundscapes.
"Making the Drinks record with Tim Presley was hugely instrumental in readjusting my attitude," Le Bon says. "We were making this record together, there was no expectation, no agenda, really no intention other than to start a project that was joyous to us... we genuinely didn't care about anything outside of this vacuum we'd created. It really reignited my pure joy of making music."
Le Bon's newest album pays homage to the radical, adrenaline-fueled exuberance of not knowing. "[Crab Day] really signifies one of the happiest moments of my life," she says. "I feel like a lot of that joyousness has been poured into the record."