The queen of the Welsh alt-folk scene’s fourth album bristles with stark, scratchy and weird pop
We’ve all had crab days, right? You know, those days when you feel that you were born on the wrong day, or like a dirty attic. When every instrument you try to play seems to have a crucial part missing, the strings on backwards and be tuned to 1973. A Cate Le Bon kind of day. “I want to make sense with you,” Penboyr’s cranky acoustic answer to tUnE-yArDs sings on – oh yes – ‘I’m A Dirty Attic’, but sense is purposefully elusive on the 33-year-old’s fourth album. And as you might expect from the queen of the Welsh alt-folk scene, with links to Super Furry Animals, H Hawkline and wizardly types Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, we’re talking mystic, disjointed neo-folk that sounds like it’s been made by ’shroomed-up Snowdonian hippie druids stumbling around a college orchestra storeroom in the dark.
Dusty, muted organs hum like prog antiques, making the sort of noises that unrecognisable woodland creatures used to make on 1970s children’s television. The guitarist and pianist have quiet fights over control of each song’s direction. Some seals have a go on saxophones and xylophones. And Cate presides over the whole reedy rattle with icy poise, serving her surrealism chilled. “If you don’t believe in stones, I’m gonna cry in your mouth,” she promises on ‘I Was Born On The Wrong Day’, while on the crabby new wave of ‘We Might Revolve’ she reveals, “I was a human satellite” and that “all the dolls are miniature”. Strangely, Noel Fielding doesn’t seem to have a credit.
From such askew romantic sentiments as “my heart’s in my liver” (‘Wonderful’) and “love is not love when it’s a cold hammer” (‘Love Is Not Love’) we can fathom that she’s over the deaths of various pets that inspired her earlier albums, yet ‘Crab Day’ bristles with a stark, scratchy pop desolation that suggests deeper fractures. And while the art-wonk approach is naturally distancing, songs like ‘I’m A Dirty Attic’, ‘Yellow Blinds, Cream Shadows’, ‘We Might Revolve’ and ‘How Do You Know’ include just enough melodic allure to draw you into Cate’s world of crustacean crookedness.