Cate Le Bon makes music that is happy and sad at the same time. It’s a mix of 60s euro pop and 70s lower east side New York post-punk. The guitars never get too loud, but they’re played with an attitude by Le Bon that brings the Tom Verlaine/Richard Lloyd guitar interplay to mind. 2013s Mug Museum was the album that brought her to my attention. My ears perked up to her mixture of playful guitar and Nico-ish vocals. Le Bon seemed to have locked into something that so many before her had attempted to but could never do right. It’s a trick to give a little swing to something without making it too dance-y. She does it quite well. Cate Le Bon has returned with the quirky, catchy, and oddly child-like Crab Day. It’s a loose, fun, and artistically freeing album that feels like stream-of-consciousness put to bizarro nursery rhyme music.
“Crab Day” opens the album like a surreal call to arms. “It doesn’t pay to sing your songs”, Le Bon sings over and over before getting to the chorus of “I saw you see me on Crab Day/Speak you eyes to me on Crab Day”. The idea of Crab Day came from Le Bon’s niece who after finding the idea of April Fool’s Day to be terrible exclaimed that everyone should instead celebrate “Crab Day”, where you draw pictures of crustaceans all day. This seems like a much better idea than pulling pranks on family and friends, so Le Bon ran with it. The result is an album full of quirky pop songs that feel like they’re forming right in front of your ears from thin air. “Love Is Not Love” has the sway of early Television, arty and pretzel-like. “Wonderful” sounds like Nico fronting The DBs on a rainy day practice session. Skronky horns are thrown in for good measure. “I’m A Dirty Attic” has a Velvet Underground vibe. VU in playful mode, not angry and despondent mode. “I Was Born On The Wrong Day” is an autobiographical song as it pertains to Le Bon finding out from her mother that they’d been celebrating her birthday on the wrong day for 30 years. Not earth shattering, but I could see how that could cause some sort of existential crisis of identity. It’s a rather lovely tune run with piano, horns, and guitar. “We Might Revolve” sounds like the onset of a panic attack. It’s manic pace and panned guitar parts only add to the vibe of oncoming anxiety.
Cate Le Bon seems to be working through some things on Crab Day. Nothing earth-shattering, per say, but maybe some bigger questions on who she is and what her place is on this big old blue rock we call home. A crisis of identity and how we figure out what we’re supposed to do with ourselves is something that can be workshopped quite easily through music. Le Bon seems to have opened her head and heart and replied with Dadaist-like musical responses to those questions. Crab Day sounds like a quirky call-and-response to the universe.