Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum (Turnstile)

Third full-length from the psych-folk songstress delivers punch but eventually loses its way

Released Nov 11th, 2013 via Turnstile / By Larry Day
Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum (Turnstile) Welsh folk-pop chanteuse Cate Le Bon, a former Neon Neon collaborator and associate of Gruff Rhys, has proved in recent years that she's more than capable of winning over hearts and minds within the UK, with records like 2012's Cyrk tugging at our ventricles. For her third full-length effort, entitled Mug Museum, Le Bon (actual name Cate Timothy, so no relation to a certain Simon) relocated to sunny LA – a far cry from the misty valleys of Wales – and enlisted Noah Georgeson (Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart) to tackle knob-twiddling duties. The result is psycho-folk, addled by passages of gloom and the sprawling outdoors; it's chaotic, but not at all loud – her experiments, though occasionally could have done with a deft reining in, are often scatterbrained affairs with silver linings.

Tinged with '70s rock, 'Wild' batters you with rock organs and metal-lite axe strumming. Le Bon's flighty vox bounce lightly across the top of the folk storm. There are times when it verges on the atonal, and it's assuredly not a paean of pastoral proportions. It's gritty, scummy and contains a splash of Pixies-esque weirdness. 'Duke' is softer on the ears, but not much less mayhemic (is that a word?), with her Deerhoof-style guitars and soaring, classic '60s pop-rock vocals. It's dusty and American, and the 'folk' element of her music is represented by a country and western je ne sais quoi. Perhaps her time in the City of Angels has had an impact on her choices of tone and instrumentation.

One of the record's highlights comes in the form of 'I Think I Knew', featuring Perfume Genius. Her platinum pipes are on display, and we're reminded why Le Bon has remained one of our favourite vocal talents of the past few years. The track's drawn comparisons to duets between Nico and Serge Gainsbourg, and there's some semblance of truth to that, but it only really reveals itself if you go looking. It's reserved and restrained in comparison to some of Mug Museum's offerings, which is a pleasant contrast, demonstrating another weapon Le Bon can wield.

'Sisters' revels in post-punk. The organ sounds almost like a sped-up version of something a phantom of an opera might whack out. It's malicious and kooky, and when backed by gristly axe riffs and grunge beats, you're reminded of acts like Vulkano or even Savages (though no matter how down-in-t'-dumps Le Bon may get, she doesn't seem like she'd be able to reach that level of grump). 'Mirror Me' is equally gothic, though more akin to 'Kidz Halloween' than black leather'n'death. It's a Tim Burton horror. The off-kilter violins merge with shimmering synths as random percussion booms out from the background. It dawdles, but it's got an intriguing timbre that should sustain interest.

Cate Le Bon's third record showcases a breadth of styles. She dabbles with myriad genres, opting to descend into darkness many times, and moves away from the quainter folk stylings of yesteryear. There's no inherent problem with this, but Le Bon falls foul of her own experiments by neglecting to adhere to a plan, or so it would seem, anyway. It lacks a strong, coherent identity that makes it worthy of being an instant classic.

However, there are numerous choice cuts – 'Wild', 'Sisters', 'I Think I Knew', 'I Can't Help You'... – which perhaps taken out of context of the entire LP would fare better. This record might be a rare case of being weaker than the sum of its parts, which is fine. Who has time to sit down and listen to an album start-to-finish anyway?