Cate Le Bon, Cyrk
Most comfortable at the edge
Considering that her 2008 EP consisted of five songs in her notoriously difficult native Welsh language, you can say that, on Cyrk, the exceptional Cate Le Bon is drifting toward the center. But not too far: Like the postwar school of Polish art (wall posters that contained camouflaged messages of defiance against the Communist regime) that gives the album its name, Le Bon’s second full-length (after 2009 debut album Me Oh My) as a surface prettiness that disguises a subterranean discomfort. Unsettling sounds turn up in unexpected places, contrasting with the high register prettiness of her voice and the sweet whimsy of her melodies. Note the momentum-building pauses in the chamber punk opener “Falcon Eyed”; the sudden minor chord that concludes the title song; the off-key trumpet over a marching drum at the end of “Greta.” Dissonant swirls of guitar and synthesized organ enhance the gothic horror hinted at in “Fold the Cloth,” as “seven shades of brown drip from the banisters” of an abandoned house. Le Bon, who has worked with Gruff Rhys and toured with St. Vincent, can write beautiful, conventional pop songs (“The Man I Wanted” could be a 21st-century cabaret standard) with mood, as on many of her songs, represented by changing seasons and the nearness or distance of the sea. But she is most comfortable at the edge. The two-part closer, “Ploughing Out,” makes manifest the transition from lamentation to hope, though like the famous line from another Welsh poet, she does not go gentle into that good night.