Review by Kent Manthie
This, the third release by Welsh neo-folike Cate LeBon, Mug Museum, is an ethereal album of folk-pop cuts. Some have likened LeBon to the late German chanteuse, Nico, made famous by her appearance on the debut Velvet Underground album, The Velvet Underground and Nico. After that appearance, Nico appeared with a few interesting solo LPs, including Chelsea Girls. Unfortunately, Nico died young in a bicycle accident.
I can see a slight resemblance here to Nico, except for the fact that Cate’s singing is a little less flat and her beautiful Welsh accent comes through in her lovely singing voice, though I do see where the comparisons can fit – not so much a similarity in sound, but a kindred spirit in both singers’ aims.
I’ve also seen a couple comparisons to the Velvet Underground, more than likely due to the latter’s early association with Nico. Believe me, though, the VU comparisons are more about the structure of the songs, like the repetitive Rickenbacker-sounding guitar strumming, the slow, but steady shoegazing meditations.
Songs such as “No God”, “I Think I Knew” show an intelligent musical tendency to captivate in a different way than has been done in a while. One can definitely see the novelty in this, at least in America. Cate seems to have been absorbing some of the more imaginative greatness from what used to be arty soundtracks to downtown parties and introspective small gatherings in an urban apartment somewhere with the lights turned down and candles lit; here I’m thinking of “Wild”, a very groovy, yet slowed down hypnogogia. The next tune, “Sisters” picks things up a little, with a quaint electric piano, that whistles and hums, evoking a smile. The keyboard and the rhythm guitar go so well together. We could be inside the old cult-film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls here. Not only is Nico or VU represented here, but I felt a little Strawberry Alarm Clock-ed too. “Cuckoo Through The Walls”, however, does have a flavor reminiscent of post-John Cale Velvet Underground, e.g., The Velvet Underground (the one with the John Cale-sung “The Gift” and the 17+ minute “Sister Ray”.
But besides the aforementioned 1965-era Rickenbacker sound and the Fender/Rhodes keyboards, what I like about Mug Museum so much is Cate LeBon’s heavenly voice and when all is said & done, I don’t think all these comparisons to Nico, et al are all that warranted; I think Cate stands up on her own quite well. Sure, she may be influenced by the underground New York-London sounds of the mid-late 1960s, but she has absorbed those into an original style that’s strictly hers and she deserves to be taken on her own terms, not as a “New Nico” or whatever. There’s no rockin’, jeering, rough stuff on here, it’s all very earthy, soft and relaxing, with an honesty that is touching. In a word, Mug Museum is “beautiful” (not necessarily stoned). It’s heavenly pop aura will ensnare you with its infectious beauty, the kind you just cannot refrain from looking at again and again or in the case of Mug Museum, listen to again and again. -KM.