By Russell Warfield
The logic behind the title CYRK II is simple enough: the EP is comprised of the five tracks recorded during the CYRK sessions which didn’t end up on Cate Le Bon‘s ten track LP earlier this year. Good enough, considered in such a literal manner. But as an artistic reflection of the record, it makes a great deal less sense for CYRK II to effectively share a title with its parent album. With ‘Cyrk’ meaning ‘circus’ in Polish, the word encapsulated Cate’s approach across the LP quite nicely – switching up from sloppy garage stomps, to clattering rhythms, to experimental patchworks of noise on a dime. CYRK II doesn’t share this capacity for loose and carefree aural playfulness, but instead offers up a much more tightly focussed collection of tracks – darker and more melancholic, sure, but boasting a more assured shared identity, and ultimately delivering a more satisfying listening experience than its wilfully scatter-shot predecessor.
Stripped back to just voice and guitar in a solo-acoustic live context is when le Bon shines brightest, and so it’s welcoming to hear ‘What Is Worse’ bloom into life with just a dirtily strummed electric backing up Cate’s soft, Welsh vocal. Pervading CYRK II is a far stronger less-is-more approach in comparison to the full album’s kitchen sink approach to texture; tracks built around an organic core of strong songwriting, letting Cate’s delivery breathe comfortably. That’s not to say that this is any solo-acoustic recording mind you, but as these songs progress (these tracks being, on the whole, much longer than those found on CYRK, by the way – giving themselves the time to sultrily wander past the five minute mark with extended slo-mo solos and why-not codas), additional instrumentation sneaks in subtly, never distracting from Cate’s guitar-and-voice performance. As a result, their impact is felt more strongly: the creak of rolling piano keys in ‘That Moon’ and the searing lead guitar of ‘Seaside, Lowside’ being among the finest moments of the EP, in spite of their smallness.
Beyond the more self-assured aural identity to this EP, though, there’s also a unity to the lyricism and the overall tone which recommends itself in a way which CYRK failed to. To put it at its simplest: Cate is plainly sad on this recording. Lines like “Goodnight, goodbye. When he goes, I always cry – trickling from the corners of my eyes” and “It’s more than I can handle that storms came from showers” are evident on every track on offer here. Across these five songs, aided by their shared, melancholic shuffle and dialled back, greyscale textures, there’s a strong sense of being privy to an extended exploration of a particular sadness caught in snapshot – a feeling strengthened by the fact that the EP is bookended by songs which anchor the it in a specific time: “that was September, now I’m feeling the cold”, and “January’s coming back – I don’t know if I’ll be here for that”. Placed alongside the directness of the stripped back music, the effect is that of these songs playing out like a purposefully constructed suite, rather than as a jumble of cutting-floor sweepings.
While CYRK was a frequently enjoyable album with a host of fabulous ideas, it nevertheless came off a little uninvolved as it lurched from tone to tone across a selection of zig-zagging tracks. But by narrowing its sound and deepening its emotion, CYRK II progresses to being a consistently excellent EP – using Cate’s unmistakable Celtic tones and fancy free guitar work to deliver music with a great deal more closeness and solemnity.