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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.
Her first album Me Oh My was released on Gruff Rhys’s Irony Bored label in 2009 and was followed by Cyrk (OVNI/Turnstile) which was released to widespread acclaim in 2012 and saw her play live across the world, including being invited by St Vincent to tour the United States. Le Bon has been a frequent collaborator, she sang the duet ‘I Lust You’ with Gruff Rhys on Neon Neon's debut album Stainless Style. ‘4 Lonely Roads’, a forthcoming track on Manic Street Preachers' Rewind The Film album features Le Bon on lead vocals.