It sounds more in tune with 1967 than 2016.
Cate Le Bon makes records like no other. There are moments when one thinks back to the more charming parts of Nico’s recorded output or even the childlike whimsy of Syd Barrett’s solo records. There are other times when we wonder if we’ve caught up with Le Bon just yet. Crab Day is her fourth full-length and first under her own name since 2013’s Mug Museum. It’s a record about displacement, imagination and the unshakable sense that one does not belong. That’s fitting for a record that sounds more in tune with 1967 than 2016.
Songs such as the reportedly autobiographical “I Was Born on the Wrong Day” spotlight her lovely falsetto and predilection for creating songs that sound like they’re just on the verge of falling apart. Rhythms and melodic ideas intersect, then depart, then come back together in such a way that there’s a momentary illusion of oneness. But it falls out of sync quickly, creating a dissonant but captivating effect that’s hard to resist. The insistent faux new wave of “We Might Revolve” reads as so severe and insistent as to be comical. “Yellow Blinds, Cream Shadows” almost plays by the rules, offering us some psyched-up pop that’s just off-kilter enough to cast aside any question that it could be remotely commercial. The playful “Wonderful” is exactly that, and “I’m a Dirty Attic” stomps around like an imaginary monster in the forest of a child’s mind.
It can be hard to sustain the kind of vast-reaching vision Le Bon seems to have for the album, and once or twice we start to feel as though we’ve heard this all before. Then she swoops in and assures us that there’s plenty more new ground to break. She does this all the way through to the last measures of closer “What’s Not Mine.”
This tendency to draw us in and then cast us out won’t be for the casual listener, but then Le Bon isn’t making records in order to attract anyone given to moderate sensibilities. These are songs extreme in their intentions and extreme in their sounds. How could we embrace them any other way than on their own terms?
Only “Love Is Not Love” offers much in the way of a concession to folks who don’t share the singer’s extreme sensibilities. It’s a haunting ballad tinted and discolored by its allegiance to a different place and different time.
That sense of discomfort as we listen is all part of the show and all the more reason to keep coming back and hearing what Le Bon has in store for us next. And repeated listens are a must. Crab Day doesn’t give up its secrets all at once and that in and of itself is refreshing. Whatever those secrets are, we can bet that they won’t be easygoing, that they won’t settle into anything approaching normalcy. Until then? LeBon’s given us plenty to consider and plenty with which to while away the hours, all in the space of 10 not-so-simple songs.