The Cate Le Bon and Bradford Cox Collaborative EP Is Unpredictable
The duo’s Myths 004 is an interesting, if inconsistent, entry into the experimental Myths EP seriesMusic Reviews Cate Le Bon and Bradford Cox
When Atlanta rock band Deerhunter announced that Welsh chamber pop iconoclast Cate Le Bon would be producing their eighth album, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?, music publications ran amok with headlines. Not that anyone really knew how the collaboration might sound—Deerhunter frontperson Bradford Cox revealed his producer choice a full six months before his band even released the album’s first single. When the justifiably well-received LP eventually arrived in January 2019, Le Bon’s fingerprints could be heard in its rigid, chipper guitars and harpsichords.
Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? was also the most accessible album on which Le Bon had worked to date. That changed with Le Bon’s masterful fifth album, Reward, released four months later. Throughout the LP’s endlessly rewarding (pun intended) 43 minutes, Le Bon abandoned her angular, folk-infused rock style in favor of piano-driven, pulsating reflections that maintained her signature art strut. Fans of both Le Bon and Deerhunter could easily connect the latter’s robust melodic ear with the pop strides of the former’s most recent album.
Or they could have pointed to flickers of both releases that bled with each artist’s most outré tendencies—Le Bon’s rickety chord progressions, Bradford Cox’s multiple-personality vocal styles. Myths 004, the new collaborative EP between the artists, often centers these qualities. The EP is experimental by design—it’s the fourth entry in Brooklyn label Mexican Summer’s Myths series, which pairs a Mexican Summer signee with an established musical cohort on the label’s Marfa Myths festival lineup and encourages them to channel their wildest musical desires.
Mostly for better—and occasionally for worse—Le Bon’s creative direction drives Myths 004 (she brought many longtime studio companions to the recording sessions, whereas Cox didn’t). “Secretary,” on which her voice appears almost immediately, is among the EP’s most charming moments, a midtempo dirge of dissonant pianos and low-rumbling saxophone with a surprisingly sweet chorus that could have fit neatly on Reward. “Fireman,” which sounds like pots and pans being gently smashed together atop a haunted player piano, posits Le Bon as a broken record repeating the same two lines as Cox modulates his vocals to an almost indiscernible low pitch and speed; despite the bizarre elevator pitch, it’s a smashing success. Opener “Canto!” is a pure delight, a gleaming array of lucid guitars and pianos that could pass for a Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? outtake even as Cox crawls deep into the unsettling low end of his vocal range and Le Bon delineates a ghastly interlude.
Whereas these three songs exist gracefully at the boundary between both artists’ pop and experimental sides, some Myths 004 tracks are too avant-garde for their own good. “Companions in Misfortune” is a two-minute instrumental that arrives after the high of “Secretary,” and its plodding, sour jazz stylings all but beg the listener to move onto subsequent track “Constance,” a much more upbeat instrumental that sways between alien-like synth work and some of the prettiest pianos ever heard in either artist’s catalog.
Later, “Companions” finds an equally grating sequel in the 30-second sketch “Jericho,” which precedes the similarly janky album closer, “What Is She Wearing.” As Le Bon narrates a tale that leans fully into the surrealism that has dominated much of her output, the music continuously becomes more delirious and atonal, neighing like a horrified horse. It’s only when drums enter a full four minutes in that the track becomes thoroughly enthralling. That the addition of percussion, an element fundamental to the vast majority of pop music, finally makes the song approachable speaks directly to the experience of Myths 004: When Le Bon and Cox take traditional approaches, they nail it, just as they did on both their most recent albums. When they venture into less familiar territory, though, they drive a bit too far off the rails, but graciously, the train never quite crashes.