“The more you feel, The more you lose.” — Sad Nudes

“You must die a little, you must hate yourself.” — The Light.

Written in solitude in England’s Lake District and recorded in Los Angeles with a richly talented supporting cast, Reward is the fifth long player by Welsh artist Cate Le Bon, a work as kaleidoscopic in the genres it skirts as it is unique and idiosyncratic in their representation. This is best understood by through its interpretive nature of the musical miles covered across its ten tracks. The off kilter post punk brilliance of ‘Mother’s Mother’s Magazines’ and the  motorik like Stereolabesque electronics of ‘Magnificent Gestures’. When put up against the crisp yet mournful soft rock of ‘Daylight Matters’ and the quietly satiating pop ‘Home To You’ Reward, in a musical sense, is almost like night and day.

Tellingly though, while there is a strange yet whimsical warmth that’s ever present instrumentally, that’s tempered by its honesty, a determination to make the listener aware that all is not well. Lyrically Le Bon’s observations are of a shallow world full of “winners”hellbent on rewarding themselves for creating “losers”. These themes are represented in the album’s unsettled edges and hidden passages and the unlikely twists and turns taken in application, arrangement and production. This almost can be seen as holding up a mirror to the adverse effects the shallow amongst us cause. There’s a definite thematic cohesion present throughout Reward, one which has as much to do with Le Bon’s witheringly adroit personal and social observations as it does the musical representation on the dislocation of human relationships and disregard for any sense of real community.

In the context of the album’s title, Le Bon focuses in on the term reward conceptually with full knowledge of its loose interpretive character and rubbery application. Interpretive in its subjective nature and rubbery in its selective regard. At a time when material rewards for avaricious, supercilious and manipulative behaviour have never been higher, Le Bon attempts to shine a personal, social and artistically critical light on a corrupt system and unethical behaviour it allows. And that is to her lasting credit.

James Stocker – Indie30

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