I’ve seen a number of stories online about Welsh musician Cate Le Bon that drop Nico as a reference point. Certainly, Ms. Päffgen is there in her voice and phrasing, but not as much as everyone would like to make out. And sure there’s a touch of The Velvet Underground in the music, or of the 1960s by way of 1990s indie rock – you know how these things descend through time. But what makes Cate Le Bon interesting is the way her influences intertwine in a novel way, recalling all these things without being any one of them.
There are lots of reasons to like an artist, but I think the musicians that stick with me the most are the ones who unselfconsciously allow their influences to mix within them. I don’t know why this happens with some people and not with others. Small things in artists’ histories nudge them in different directions and sometimes you get paradigmatic musicians that define entire genres and sometimes you get people playing good but derivative music. And then, well, there’s the rest.
Maybe it does take a special person. Someone vulnerable enough to allow themselves to be open to different ideas, but also someone who’s confident enough to take those ideas and shape them in a particular direction. Le Bon seems like this person, at least via her music. Her voice is assured, if not full. The music is shambolic, but never does it feel chaotic. For someone who just released her second album, she’s a rather confident and strong musician. That’s either the strong ego of someone whose parents celebrated their every bowel movement or pseudo-strong ego of someone whose parents were mentally ill.
I unabashedly loved her first full English album Oh Me Oh My, and Cyrk builds on that LP’s foundation. Songs are weirder and Le Bon seems more willing to experiment, but again, she’s incredibly good at holding all these different, contradictory ideas together without letting any one dominate. Maybe it’s not just the music that shines through in these instances; maybe it’s also the confidence of the artist. Le Bon, Stephen Malkmus, Dan Bejar, Annie Clark, etc. have charisma and self-assuredness, which doesn’t just function to wrangle the different styles into something compelling, but also functions as formal qualities, which are appealing in and of themselves. Cyrk is certainly like this. It’s many different things at once, but all of them are confident and powerful.