Cate Le Bon’s fifth album had a colourful conception. It wasn’t even necessarily meant to happen. Uprooting from Los Angeles, Cate moved to “a remote village in Cumbria” to live in solitude, undertaking a furniture-making course as a means of respite from her established life. Now she’s faced with the possibility of becoming the first Welsh act to win the Hyundai Mercury Prize. Funny how life goes, isn’t it?
“I initially went there to take a break from music,” she explains. “I’d changed the architecture of my life almost entirely in one fell swoop, and I think I just needed to readjust my relationship with music after so long. I was involved in the furniture school for a year and it was pretty all-consuming, and quite tiring. But ultimately music became my cathartic outlet at night, it became my hobby again. I spent a lot more time sitting and playing the piano than I would have if I was intentionally trying to make a record.”
A year on from those fruitful evenings in the Lake District, the completed album had undergone some significant transformations, picking up various musical textures during recording sessions in Stinson Beach, California, and “magical” Joshua Tree. Warm synthesizer melodies and brassy horns are a mainstay, while angular post-punk guitars and krautrock rhythms define highlights like ‘Mother’s Mother’s Magazines’, and ‘Magnificent Gestures’ respectively. Cate’s siren-like vocals, though, are the defining feature of the album. Somehow both mournful and hopeful at the same time, they endow the record with a rich sense of emotion.
“It’s the feeling of wanting to be able to completely annihilate your own identity.”
“It’s the feeling of wanting to be able to completely annihilate your own identity and do whatever the f*ck it is to feel excited,” she says. “As I was writing the music I was listening to people like Kate Bush, Pharoah Sanders and Arthur Russell. All of these people who are just free and making authentic music - they just allow themselves to do it. That’s the feeling I wanted to capture.”
The completed album is a journey full of subtle nuances and secrets - but the message is ambiguous. “There’s a strange relationship laid out in the meaning of the word ‘reward’,” she says. “It sort of dictates something that can be taken advantage of. It’s seemingly a very positive word until you start thinking about it - it’s almost something a bit sinister to me.”
“I suppose through the course of that year I realised that you have to kind of dictate your own reward, and that’s the best relationship you can have with it."
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Watch performances from the shortlisted artists on BBC Four at 10pm on 23rd September.
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Foals and Fontaines DC are also among the acts who’ll be vying for the prize this September.
Including a massive show at London’s Roundhouse with Cate Le Bon
Entirely captivating, with just enough moments of optimism to keep you hanging on.
It features on forthcoming album ‘Reward’.