Cate Le Bon: “Mug Museum” Review
There are two competing narratives in the press release accompanying Cate Le Bon’s newest record Mug Museum. One addresses the self-reflection following a death in the family (Le Bon’s maternal grandmother passed away, a sea change that left her “mulling over the importance of [her] place and purpose within this female chain”). The other, Le Bon’s decision to relocate to California and all of that California sunshine that that move entailed.
Listening to Mug Museum over the past few weeks, I definitely hear the former. But I struggle to hear much sunniness in this dense and contemplative collection of songs. If California has imparted anything it seems to be the Doors’ predilection for twilight psychedelic organ riffs, which Mug Museum has in spades. Perhaps the fact that Le Bon wrote most of the tunes in her native Wales never gave California a chance to brighten all those shadows. Or maybe geographic location just isn’t that important.
Whatever the reason, I am pretty happy with the results. To my mind Mug Museum is Le Bon’s most mature, dynamic work to date. It’s composed of ten psychedelic rock/folk influenced pop tunes that impart contemplativeness and self-seriousness. It’s introspection you could dance to though – Le Bon’s intricately stitched organ, synth, and guitar arrangements are buoyant and upbeat without sacrificing any of their gravitas, and her Nico-esque singing voice sounds bewitching in the pristine production (courtesy of engineers Noah Georgeson and Josiah Steinbrick).
Lyrically speaking Le Bon is as opaque as ever – though themes do emerge. A subtextual motif of doubt seems to emerge in songs like “No God” and “I Wish I Knew,” (the latter of which she is joined for by Perfume Genius’s Mike Hadreas). Both tunes hint at spiritual connotations though they are also vague enough that they could easily be applicable to something else. A sampling from “I Wish I Knew”:
There’s no working it out
My wanting is beyond our fields of formula
There’s no boundary to devotion
No territory to handle and cut neatly in two
I wish I knew, I wish I knew
Elsewhere, knowing Le Bon’s history, it’s easy to try and hear messages to her deceased grandmother in tunes like “I Can’t Help You” and “Cuckoo Through the Walls.” However she isn’t as straightforward a lyricist as to be able to feel confident in those assumptions. Really, Le Bon’s lyrical meanings are known to herself and herself alone – and trying to translate them to linear meanings is no simple task.
Luckily no such translation is necessary. Whatever the meaning behind them these are fantastic songs – and a welcome return to Le Bon’s psych-influenced sound after last year’s Cyrk took something of a pop detour. You can pick up Mug Museum tomorrow via Wichita Recordings or wait until January 25th when she’ll be visiting our fair cities to play at the 7th St. Entry.
Live Thoughts: Savages at First Ave
I’ve seen plenty of bands who roared in smaller rooms (the Entry, Triple Rock, Turf, etc) and then expose themselves as paper tigers when they step into the First Avenue Mainroom. I wondered how Savages, the London based post-punk revival group who took the Triple Rock by storm earlier this year, would fare on the larger stage. It took about 2 minutes into their first song, “I Am Here,” to dispel any doubts that they were up to the task.
The band were a model of muscular efficiency, waltzing on stage right at their 9:15 advertised time and playing a terse, exhilarating 75 minute set highlighting their outstanding debut LP Silence Yourself. The guitar/bass/drums portion of the group managed to sound both lean and gigantic, with their sparse stage setup and all black outfits only adding to the minimalist charm. I hadn’t picked it up listening to the record, but lead singer Jehnny Beth is a magnetic star and a centrifugal force in their live show.
Bursting through 13 songs, the group burst out of the gates and continued at the frantic pace for almost the entire show. Highlights live were, as on record, the tracks “Shut Up,” “Husbands” and the stretched out, jammy closure “Fuckers.” The crowd seemed to draw heavily from folks who were around when the post-punk legends who influenced Savages cut their teeth, so the crowd was less energetic than I thought they would be, but the band really commanded respect and gave the audience no choice but to ride the wave with them.
I was on the Savages bandwagon before Tuesday night, but I’ve had bands lose me in their assent when it becomes clear that they are punching above their weight. Savages proved easily able to bring down the house, no matter how big it was, and I would be remiss to doubt them at conquering any scale at this point.
Show Reminder: FLAG at First Avenue tonight
While Greg Ginn continues to make questionable choices to the legacy of Black Flag, Keith Morris and crew (Dukowski, Dez, Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton) have done a more than admirable job of bringing Black Flag’s songs back to the stage done by mostly original members. No new songs, just the Black Flag classics you know and love played by the guys who brought you most of them in the first place. Morris has shown he’s still got the energy to own these songs even if he didn’t sing them all to begin with. Tonight’s show kicks off a tour that takes them to Riot Fest this weekend and off to the east coast. See you in the pit.
FLAG plays First Avenue tonight with TSOL, Cerebral Ballzy and Off With Their Heads. More info here.
Wayne Hancock: “Ride” (Show Tonight)
We don’t get a huge number of chances to hear good old-school honky tonk in the Twin Cities, so if you are into that sort of thing be sure to check out the legendary Wayne “The Train” Hancock tonight at the 7th St. Entry. Hancock has been touring for years and plays a style of traditionalist country that blends blues, rockabilly and swing. He’s got a new album out called Ride and doubtlessly he’ll draw from it for much of tonight’s show. You can hear a single from the record below and the show starts at 8:30 tonight.