Cate Le Bon

Cate Le Bon

Cate Le Bon hails from Carmarthenshire, rural West Wales and is currently a resident of Highland Park, Los Angeles, having relocated across the pacific, coinciding with the recording of her new album.

Towards the end of 2012, having completed extensive touring for her previous album, Cyrk, Cate returned to Wales to write the songs that would become Mug Museum. The album was informed by a period of taking stock after bereavement. ‘Following the death of my maternal Grandmother I felt a very palpable shift in the roles that we’d all become accustomed to within the female line of the family which, for the first time, had me mulling over the importance of my placement and purpose within this female chain’ says Le Bon. ‘The album’s theme emerged from and circulates around these maternal familial relationships and this period of calm, lengthy, intent consideration in turn drew other relationships into the Mug Museum.’

With Le Bon now relocated to California Mug Museum was recorded at the recently opened Seahorse Sound studios, Los Angeles. Produced by Noah Georgeson (who is perhaps best known for his work with Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart) and Josiah Steinbrick. Mug Museum is an album that lets in the sunlight and space and relocates the West Wales lilt in Le Bon’s voice to an equally apposite West Coast setting. In the studio Le Bon assembled a band of friends from both continents. Accompanying Le Bon on the recording are the multi instrumentalists Sweet Baboo, H. Hawkline and Nick Murray from White Fence. ‘I flew H. Hawkline and Sweet Baboo over from Wales who I've had the pleasure of playing alongside for years’ she says ‘I saw White Fence play at the Troubadour last year and was mesmerised by the whole show but especially by Nick Murray’s drumming and asked him to play on the album immediately after the gig.’

As well as describing the personnel involved in Mug Museum, ‘Welsh – Californian’ is a phrase that captures the album’s sound: woozily melodic, dreamily confident and wrapped in a hazy psychedelic gauze. This is a record made with the type of clarity that follows a change in perspective and situation. There is a directness and openness across the ten tracks on Mug Museum that suggest everyone involved had discovered the same lightness of touch and sense of purpose.

‘I wrote the majority of the record in the home country but a few songs were finished out here in the run up to recording’ says Le Bon ‘I'm sure Los Angeles has bled into the recordings somehow but exactly how I do not know. There was a calm brutality to making decisions - It all happened very quickly and directly, as it should.’

Throughout Mug Museum Le Bon’s voice changes register to great dramatic and emotional effect; on ‘Duke’ and ‘Cuckoo Through The Walls’ these shifts occur during the course of the same song. Perhaps her voice is at its most startling on ‘I Wish I Knew’, a duet with Perfume Genius, one of the album’s most atmospheric tracks and one on which two distinctive personalities and voices combine to produce a performance of rare alchemy. ‘Last April I toured with Perfume Genius’ says Le Bon ‘I watched him play every single night and not once did my attention waive. I was over the moon when he agreed to come and sing on the album.’

From the bewitching circular riff of the album’s opener ‘I Can’t Help You’ to the closing title track that sees Le Bon accompanied by piano and the occasional burst of double-tacked clarinet, Mug Museum’s reflective song writing weaves around a richly detailed framework. Like all museums it is a contemplative space, a personal world that is open to everyone. ‘A place of weighted hauntings and considered reconciliation, where you resolve and tailor your purpose and significance within your relationships’ is how Le Bon describes it. As these ten songs attest, Mug Museum is also a unique and dreamlike edifice and one that has been created by an artist at the height of their powers.

Kevin Morby

Singing Saw is a record written simply and realized orchestrally. In it, Kevin Morby faces the reality that true beauty - deep and earned - demands a whole-world balance that includes our darker sides. It is a record of duality, one that marks another stage of growth for this young, gifted songwriter with a kind face and a complicated mind.

In the Autumn of 2014, Kevin Morby moved to the small Los Angeles neighborhood of Mount Washington. The move would shape Singing Saw, Morby's first album for new label Dead Oceans. Previous tenants at Morby's new home happened to leave an upright piano behind, with a few mysterious pieces of sheet music and an introductory book of common chords stacked on top. Thankful to finally be in one place for an extended spell, Morby, a beginner at the piano, immediately sat at the new instrument and began composing the songs that would form Singing Saw.

Alongside, he began taking long walks through the winding hills and side streets of the neighborhood each night, glimpsing views of both the skyline's sweeping lights and the dark, dried out underbrush of the LA flora. The duality of the city itself began to shape a set of lyrical ideas that he would refine with the sparse accompaniment of piano and acoustic guitar.

What is a singing saw It is an instrument that creates ethereal sounds, but it is also a tool: basic and practical while also being fearsome, even destructive. Morby watches the singing saw in its eponymous song; that instrument of eerie soft beauty cuts down the flowers in its path and chases after him, while his surroundings mock and dwarf him, Alice in Wonderland style. And in a singing saw, we can understand music as something more powerful than its inviting, delicate sound. No wonder Morby talks about a "songbook" in his head as something he needs to take up the hills so he can "get rid of it." Heavy themes are nothing new for Morby, whose previous records (2013's Harlem River and 2014's Still Life, both released on the Woodsist label) dealt with their own eerie visions and damning prophecies.

Morby opens Singing Saw with "Cut Me Down", a song of tears, debts and a prescient vision of being reduced to nothing. "I Have Been to the Mountain", "Destroyer" and "Black Flowers" continue to explore beauty and freedom, seizing upon the rot that seeps into even the supposedly safest of realms; peace, family and romantic love. By the end of the record on "Water", Morby is literally begging to be put out once and for all, like a fire that might burn all the visions away.

Travels beyond his mountain walks inform songs like "Dorothy", which recounts a trip to Portugal, witnessing a fishing ritual and luxuriating in the aura of a bar light-tinged reunion with old friends The touching innocence of "Ferris Wheel" stands alone in stark simplicity amidst the lush sonic textures of the album. Here, the album is balanced by Morby's signature sweetness and joie de vivre.

The arrangements of Singing Saw trace back to Morby's experience playing in The Complete Last Waltz, a live recreation of The Band's legendary last performance. There, Morby developed a fast friendship with producer/bandleader Sam Cohen (Apollo Sunshine, Yellow Birds), which led Morby to forgo recording in Los Angeles and take the nascent songs of Singing Saw to Isokon Studios in Woodstock, New York. There, in a converted A-frame house, they set about creating a record that would bring a sonic balance, intricacy and depth to match these songs and all that inspired them.

Sam Cohen added a multitude of instrumentation to the record (guitar, bass, drums and keyboard), and were joined by fellow Complete Last Waltz alum Marco Benevento on piano and keyboard, fleshing out Morby's original compositions and upholding the vision for a cohesive piano sound that serves as a touchstone for the entire album. Backup vocalists Hannah Cohen, Lauren Balthrop and Alecia Chakor contribute soaring harmonies; Nick Kinsey (Elvis Perkins) adds drums and percussion; Justin Sullivan, a longtime Morby collaborator and staple of his live band, contributes drums; Oliver Hill and Eliza Bag lift numerous songs with string accompaniments, and Alec Spiegelman on saxophone and flute and Cole Kamen-Green on trumpet bring dramatic swells. Finally, John Andrews (Quilt) adds the eerie lilt of the album's promise, providing saw on the "Cut Me Down" and "Singing Saw".

In the end, Morby fulfills the promise many heard on his first two albums, bringing his most realized effort of songwriting and lyricism to fruition. The songs of Singing Saw reflect the clarity that comes from welcoming change and embracing duality, and the distillation of those elements into an entirely new vision.

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