You awake, eyes wild, dreams of Pompeii still flashing through your mind. It’s dark outside, what time is it? A rhythm shuffles over the horizon, an unidentified pulse of percussion and a shambling couple of wind instruments. Pompeii, Cate Le Bon’s sixth album, has begun, with ‘Dirt on the Bed’.
Yet again, she has created a remarkable, singular work. Pompeii is continuously rewarding, an album to return to again and again until it swallows you into its world. Like its artwork, a version of the Tim Presley painting that served as the central inspiration for the entire project, it possesses an aged, grainy feel in spite of its fresh originality. The sound is science fiction. As if from a parallel 80s, it is drenched in synths while evading the worn conventions of synth pop, instead assimilating those sounds into the Cate Le Bon style.
The brilliant ‘French Boys’ is punctuated by a beautiful steel pan hook that is mechanical and melancholy, creaking with the sad nostalgia of an abandoned oil rig in some post-apocalyptic landscape. Later tunes like the momentous ‘Cry Me Old Trouble’ develop walls of synths that provide epic and strange backdrops to the lyrics, complementing their tone perfectly.
Le Bon’s writing builds on the vocabulary of the ancient and the spiritual which she introduced to her work on her previous album, Reward. It constitutes perhaps the best example to date of her ability to create affecting lyrics out of abstract emotive language. Lines like “cry me old trouble”, “my heart broke a century”, “raise a glass in a season of ash and pour it over me”, they have that Symbolist combination of familiarity and mystery. Like a dream, her writing makes some unconscious sense even when individual elements evade comprehension.
Recent Cate Le Bon albums have felt terrestrial in their experimentation, each album conveying a kind of landscape. Crab Day was shingly, coastal, Reward was mountainous and sublime. By comparison, this album feels like it takes place on a swampy exoplanet, with thicker air and a slightly stronger gravitational force. In other words, Cate Le Bon has broken loose from Earth and is operating from a world of her own, free from any obvious external reference point and working according only to her original logic.
The closer, ‘Wheel’, provides a cyclical end to the album, an approximate reprise of ‘Dirt on the Bed’ with a palette expanded on the basis of all that we’ve gained through the 9-song track list. Only Le Bon can bound this sound-world, can make sense of it and condense it into an ordered and beautiful album. She is yet to make a bad record, and this might well be her finest work yet.
Order your copy of Cate Le Bon’s new album Pompeii here (released 4th February)
Photo Credit: Cate Le Bon