On Cate Le Bon And The Scourge Of Relatability

BY JOEY SWEENEY

In a time when so much of what we read, watch and listen to is brought into the world during a time of a great scourge — the scourge of relatability, that is, where the obsequious language of the social media has begun, for some, to infect even the creative process itself — Cate Le Bon is deeply weird. And taking in her work feels like a great cleaning out of the cobwebs of likability. This isn’t to say she’s not likable or that her music isn’t invitational — her best-known song, after all, is called “Are You With Me Now?” — it’s more that Le Bon is working from a playbook more commonly used in the world of, say, visual art. So while any sampling of her indie peers present with the same aesthetic as a farm-to-table restaurant that more than anything wants you to follow them on Facebook, Le Bon presents as something else entirely: Pure art.

I cannot say how refreshing this will be for you, personally, but where I’m coming from, it’s so refreshing that I feel like sending her a thank you note. Across a quartet of albums — including the just-out Crab Day (Drag City), which comes with its own art film — Le Bon has done what Nico, her closest well-known vocal referent, just couldn’t: match a perfectly brilliant coldness of style with something deeper. Listening to Nico, mostly, you just get Nico. Listening to Le Bon, you get style but substance as well — in the middle of a Broadcast/Stereolab sonic structure, you’ll also get thrown back to Sandy Denny or Bridget St. John and things far more ancient and soulful than that. This is the kind of cognitive dissonance we could use a lot more of these days, because if I’m being honest, more and more, it’s the only new thing I hear where, after a while, I can sigh and legitimately think to myself: Hey, I can relate.

Cate Le Bon plays Johnny Brenda's, Friday, May 6th.