Review Summary: a really good album that, contrary to popular belief, wasn't written by Nico
On my absolutely wishy-washy but definitely noble search for as many singer plus guitar albums I could find, it was in Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day
I was able to make a home- preferably a log cabin- to crawl up in. Not that this is a review of that (though if I can petition someone to write a glowing 5 for it, yes please), but it is the warmth in that album that startled me. Even if it isn’t the perfect acoustic album- there’s more to it around the edges than that, shout out to the album’s obscure fiddle player- Bunyan’s assurance on a song such as “Love Song” speaks volumes of how to make an album that carries guitar and voice to its core. It’s not her gorgeous voice we will wax lyrical about forever unless it goes hand in hand with the guitar below it, and the rest is a fill-in. There, in Diamond Day
, lies a classic album built on a steady foundation.
This mini-review, of course, fails to point back at the actual make-up of CYRK
, an album driven by a musician and her band
- drums, organs and such, they’re definitely a mark on this album, curse ‘em- but it’s in sheer strength of will that Cate Le Bon comes across like the room’s been cleared out. To me, it’s an album of vocal and guitar, too dressed-up in places like “Greta,” maybe, for that assertion to be actually true, but transparent enough to hold those two fundamentals at its centre. It’s the guitar-work that compels Le Bon to the shade of herself that is punk, but it’s the same instrument she falls back on for her less acidic moments. At the risk of being caught out by someone else in their boxy bedroom who knows I have nothing to say about CYRK
beyond “cool music” or worse still, “sounds like Nico,” allow me to distract the conversation to Le Bon's startling live show: as support for St. Vincent, she was the living, breathing definition of sparseness, which is the most fabulous of endorsements for Annie Clark’s supplement, in a strange way. Her live show presented that unsettling singer-songwriter style nuanced into its purest form, something most would call nothing more than “a lady and a guitar.” I prefer to think of it as a lady and some ridiculous chord changes, liberated by her small-time status enough to push through the intense experiments she’d been purveying. An expert fit, I’m sure you’ll agree, to St. Vincent, but Le Bon didn’t fill the stage as a band-leader. This was a pastoral (whatever that really means anymore) take on her peer’s quiet debut Marry Me
, tampered with so little that even if I knew none of the songs, I was hearing them as if getting their inaugural play-through.
That lovely, simple magic doesn’t feel lost on CYRK
, even when the shuffling drums roll over “Fold The Cloth” or the keys try to get some authority over it, and how they try: even mixed in louder, they’re still somehow kinda unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Even then, the base of this album feels sprinkled on by the band around it. Those twinkling effects on “Puts Me To Work” are put on top like the most awesome of supplementary essays, further explaining the character and zest of CYRK
but not taking away from Cate Le Bon’s simple image. The character of this album is in its fine lines- again, reminiscent of Annie Clark as she plays on the borders of comfort and its sinister, opposite number- and those, laid bare, are simply given marking points by all this stuff. The organs, the drums, and such, are going to lend Le Bon a certain amount of comparison, but it’s in the guitar we keep falling in with Stephen Malkmus and her voice we so desperately want to connect to Chelsea Girl
. Not that there are any gosh-darn flutes in this album, but “Fold The Cloth” gets its power from those wandering guitar-lines at 1:24. If anything, CYRK
is more the work of someone working in Kurt Vile’s discipline, chilling from the couch as she makes an album of two great talents. Le Bon is doodling, but as she refines it, CYRK
becomes a clear piece of work with a well-clarified core.
Even if, once in a while, she’s all up for dismantling her world, dusting it off and putting it back together in some new ridiculous layout. “Greta” seems to stress a particular breaking point for the album, but neither side is radically different from the other. It stands, in this warped little interlude, one which will put the easily horrified among us off brass instruments forever, that Le Bon is as much of experiment as she is of constructing songs, and in its creepy-as-hell last gasp, “Greta” is consciously laying down the deliberately fragmenting sound of Le Bon, one that she tampers with for nothing more than the delight of it. And so the disorientating final seconds of CYRK
are indicative of the musician behind them in many ways, which is almost frustrating in light of part one of the inverted “Ploughing Out.” Le Bon is playing beautiful chords for the first round, and if it’s not that which sooths, one can point to the earnestness of everything: the softness of drums and the cooing vocal enveloping the headphones is the album I’m constantly searching for. That’s a story, I’ll bite, that lends itself to about half of CYRK
(and half of my life), but to me it’s in Le Bon’s guitar-work she finds her innate strength, that which demolishes with about the same dedication it helps her sparkle bright. This album sits in the comfort of a pastoral tune and its strong-willed, angular resolution. The twist in “Ploughing Out” moves entirely in chords, treacling down to the next movement like the rough patch needn’t have words, needn’t have a reason; it’s just Le Bon’s electric guitar, now near-autonomous, causing the scene. Now leading some semblance of a band towards singer-songwriter paradise, it’s just a startling achievement to see a musician command her music so well. No wonder her audience got her stepping onto that tiny stage alone: that’s a really cool guitar, after all.