Existential angst and shaking figurative fists at the world through music are nothing new to fans who came up on Joy Division and The Cure. Are they over-the-top enough to inspire parody? Sometimes, yes, but at least you feel something when listening to them. They illicit reaction, whether it’s a genuine connection to some deep-seeded despair or facetious criticism. Sad girl Cate Le Bon doesn’t succeed in evoking either response on Mug Museum.
The Welsh artist mixed her gloomy outlook with punk fervor on last year’s well-constructed CYRK. There’s a slight nihilist undertone on Mug Museum, but Le Bon channels that nihilism toward the production as an end in and of itself, instead of using the production to channel that nihilism to the audience. As a result, Mug Museum lacks any sort of emotional dialogue with the listener.
A good portion of that fault lies in Le Bon’s vocal performance, combined with the overly simplistic instrumentation. The album feels emanates from a young adult climbing out of bed, with some combination of apathy and dread, because the next 12 or so hours are going to suck, just like the day before, and the days that will follow afterward. “No God” chugs along with major chords until it reaches its climax, where Le Bon repeats the song’s simplistic title in a pout, rather than an exclamation. “I Think I Knew” is a duet with Perfume Genius that nears a falsetto Simon & Garfunkel. The duo sounds fragile when harmonizing their vocals, shallowly crooning the title. There are just too many of these moments throughout the album (the snoozer “Mirror Me” and the foregettable “Mug Museum” fit that bill), Le Bon fading away when she could connect with the listener, her performance not intriguing enough to want to chase after her.
The better moments on Mug Museum come when Le Bon decides to saddle up and do something about the depression. She feigns this effort on album opener “I Can’t Help You”, her demure coos engaged rather than uninterested. When she’s not playing coy , she can also rock out, as she does on “Wild”, which could fit easily on CYRK. Amidst the album’s depressed tones, this flash of strength acts as a great reminder that sometimes life isn’t so damn hard.
Essential Tracks: “I Can’t Help You”, “Wild”