June 1, 2010
Wales is used to being overlooked. Seven centuries of English occupation will do that. Almost 15 years after Super Furry Animals, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Catatonia, and Manic Street Preachers drew attention to their tiny country's music scene, newer Welsh artists like Race Horses and the Joy Formidable are plugging along amid considerably less media fanfare. Now add Cate Le Bon to that list, with a bullet.
On her debut album, the Cardiff-based singer/songwriter introduces a beguiling, idiosyncratic voice almost designed not to call attention to itself. No relation to Duran Duran star Simon, Le Bon is probably best known for her fembot guest spot on "I Lust U", from Super Furries frontman Gruff Rhys's Neon Neon project a couple of years ago. Yet on Me Oh My-- first released via Rhys's fledgling Irony Bored label last fall, and finally for sale in the U.S. this month-- she buries her pop hooks like the childhood animals that gave the album its working title, Pet Deaths, and lets her freak-folk flag fly half-mast instead.
Me Oh My is an understated work, but by no means an underwhelming one. Le Bon's coolly enunciated vocals, resembling an earthier Nico or an eerier Victoria Bergsman, are the biggest draw. But the "Pale Blue Eyes" twang of "Sad Sad Feet" ("Baby, I'm headed for the black") or recession-era Neil Young of "Shoeing the Bone" ("These are hard times to fall in love") should earn enough repeat listens for the rest of the songs to reveal themselves. Accompanied by members of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Le Bon elsewhere updates the 1970s Welsh psych-folk reveries and fuzztone free-for-alls that Rhys has ably documented on his Welsh Rare Beat compilations. If side two opener "Terror of the Man" is a rare droney snoozer, rough-hewn details such as the retro-futurist synths on the title track help make up the difference. "I fought the night and the night fought me," Le Bon sings. The night wins, of course. But, on a modest scale, so do we.