Cate Le Bon: Pompeii (Mexican Summer) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, November 28th, 2023  

Cate Le Bon


Mexican Summer

Feb 02, 2022 Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue Bookmark and Share

My imagined travelogue listening to the newest Cate Le Bon goes something like this: Dreaming of stardust on the French Riviera, then collapsing into a cesspool in an abandoned hotel, and finally, feeling fine linens as the ash from Vesuvius engulfs and petrifies you, immortalizing you in your final gesture. There’s something so cold and remote about these visions, but also an intangibly intimate quality birthed from the shards of our collective memories. This antagonism between confession and obscuring is what underlines the strange alchemy of Le Bon’s work.

Le Bon, who I had formerly regarded as a sort of chanteuse guitar-hero with an uncanny ear for the most unpredictable melodies, began to strip her compositions back and let them breathe a little more beginning with 2019’s Mercury Prize-nominated Reward. Her transformation into a producer, arranger, and sought-after creative collaborator is largely because of the uncompromising nature of her songwriting, a thru-line that has existed the entirety of her career. I want to say she’s moribund, but she’s more abundant than simply elegiac, and to call her a canary in a coal mine does a disservice to the atmospheres she so deftly conjures. Still, she’s our poet prophetess of yearning and to not wade into the murky depths of her lyricism is to experience only an adumbration of the figures she is sculpting.

That isn’t to say that the album is simply about the lyrics. Its sound contains all of the ironic and evanescent qualities that these hymnals rest upon. From the slinky, sultry Madonna-esque chamber pop of “Harbour” to the swaying, resigned bliss of the dirgey “Cry Me Old Trouble” to the Fripp’d out distorted chorus guitars of “Remembering Me,” Le Bon has welded the sumptuousness of their sound to the faltering melodies that animate them. The supposed influence for the sonic approach on the album was a painting by frequent collaborator and kindred spirit Tim Presley that hung in the studio. The result is a picture of sound as a process, a depiction of a searching state of mind asserting itself. Compared with Reward, these songs fill up greater volumes, but they still in many ways feel like companion pieces, united by a reverential dedication to the oblique as the direct, the spasm as control, the heart as the mind. (

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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