The first line of Crab Day, Welsh artist Cate Le Bon’s fourth solo album may well ring true for a lot of musicians in these days of downloads and miniscule streaming service royalty rates: “It doesn’t pay to sing your songs.” Whether or not this dejected mantra rings true for the now Los Angeles-based songwriter is unclear, but the album itself is full of art rock riches.
The opening title track sets the mood as a post-punk rumba, a steady thump of bass backing a jangled chord before Le Bon and her backup band usher in an Aquarian wash of ’60s psych-pop textures. The song features a faux-ending, a disjointed fall-apart that dissipates for a second before returning to its familiar slam .
Much of Crab Day thrives on these gleefully jarring moments. “Wonderful” winds itself up with a mix of stabbing, staccato piano and angular, off-kilter guitar, but the arrangement eventually collapses unto itself as a free-form burp of saxophone. “I want to be a motion picture film,” Le Bon admits grandly mid-song, before adding a fittingly destructive second goal: “I want to be a 10 pin ball.”
Nervous tension also drives tracks like “We Might Resolve” and “Find Me,” the latter of which playing out with a kind of sprechgesang-modeled, Transylvanian swagger as Le Bon reports, “I Might be sighing in your tomb. Find me.” Later the band plays with gentler, calming tones for the lovely “How Do You Know?”, but the song likewise upends the easiness to lock into a doomed Magic Band boogie.
That’s not to say that Crab Day doesn’t know how to handle its quieter moments. “Love is Not Love” fixates on a Sunday morning sway. In it, a pap of drums back spacious, spare piano melodies. Adding just a touch of quirkiness is a trampoline-bounce of lead guitar and Le Bon’s haunting statement that “love is not love when it’s a coathanger.” Elsewhere, “I’m a Dirty Attic” has the songwriter’s Nico-modeled vocal bounding over a baroque-rock arrangement that recalls early ’70s-period John Cale.
While full of enticingly odd-pop moments, Crab Day saves its greatest mind-bender for last. The epic, seven-and-a-half-minute “What’s Not Mine” is a melancholy jangle seemingly examining elements of empathy and identity. “I’m not crying for myself, but I’m riding close,” Le Bon coos above the saddening sparkle of guitar, marimba and more. “I was hiding in your disguise. I was looking through your dead eyes. I don’t even know what’s mine.”
It’s a confession that daringly breaks down the fourth wall by analyzing, in essence, the relationship between artists and their audience. If “What’s Not Mine” brings a tear to your eye–and it should–it’s all just part of a cycle being summed up in the song itself. We’re experiencing the pain that the narrator is experiencing through her subject. It’s twisted, almost as much as the fabulously fractured guitar solo Le Bon affixes to the finale. Like many other moments on Crab Day, it, too, unravels into a glorious mess.
Early on in the LP, Le Bon questioned the value of songsmanship. Monetarily, who knows? But the effects Crab Day will leave on listeners are priceless.
– Review by Gregory Adams