I can recall one long Saturday afternoon when I was about 10, back in the long-ago before internets and other on-demand time-sucking entertainment sources, I was working on a puzzle on our kitchen table. I had completed a fair amount of it, with what seemed to be 10,000 tiny, infuriating pieces, but had become stuck and angry, unable to figure how to continue. My mom came over after listening to me huff and whine for a bit, and suggested that I switch positions, so that I was viewing it upside-down. I looked at her witheringly, as preteens do so often. How could that possibly help? She explained to me that the brain is a complex thing, and that a change in perspective can spark new ways of seeing things and solving problems. I grumpily changed seats to attempt to work the puzzle again. After a minute or so, a pattern began to emerge. I quickly began to push pieces into place, feeling both dense for missing it before and exhilarated to complete the task.
What does this have to do with last Tuesday's concert from Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley, you ask? Puzzles and perspectives are at the heart of their music, kindred souls that they are. Both compose complex and layered songs that take disparate, odd sonic shapes and fit them together like they were meant to be. They then turn that puzzle upside-down, listen, and figure it again, adding in spontaneous guitar runs or drum patterns that run the risk of breaking apart the whole, but instead add an intriguing freshness and unpredictability.
My mom was an artist, and knew a thing or two about the process of creating unique work. Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley are artists, and fit together two lovely puzzle-performances before an appreciative crowd at Chop Suey.
(poster by Jacuzzi Boys' Gabriel Alcala)
If you're a regular to this site, you will know that I am a pretty gushy Tim Presley fan. His approach to music resonates strongly for me, all the elements of sweet Syd Barrett/Love/Beatles psychedelia, Kinks-ian jaunt, garage rock grit, post-punk spikes, and a touch of early David Bowie forming into intelligent, interesting, memorable songs. As he walked out onstage with "The Wink Band," in white-face mime makeup, Bowie circa 1968 came immediately to mind:
Welsh-born Cate Le Bon brings to her puzzle many of the same elements as Presley: jagged timings, clever melodic elements, quirky arrangements. "Crab Day," her latest album, has a similar sound to "The Wink," naturally; they are 2016 bookends of two people solving different equations in the same way, one might say. Le Bon's songs are perhaps a bit more accessible, despite her often surrealistic lyrics, with hints of early '80s British New Wave pop adding familiarity.
The shining star here is Le Bon's bell-tone voice, which maybe sounded even better live than on record. Not a note was missed as she switched from wicked, extended guitar shredding to delicate keyboards to addressing the crowd warmly. Like Presley, you have the feeling you are watching an artist of depth, without any sense of disaffection or preciosity. The "Crab Day" songs were represented beautifully, the band again a perfect and responsive support, and the melodies stuck in my mind long after the show was over.
It takes effort and will to solve a puzzle, to bring together elements that will not fit without a vision of the whole. In this pre-packaged, pre-solved musical world, it just takes more guts to work out your own thing. I think Presley and Le Bon write, record, and perform because that is who they are, and would whether there were listeners or not. Fortunately, we listen, and are rewarded.
Cate Le Bon, Chop Suey, Seattle, WA. 1/17/17 Flickr set