Cate Le Bon became a guitar rock auteur by subverting the form. The Welsh singer’s gifts for unruliness, absurdity, and obliqueness have only heightened since the jangly garage rock and shaggy psych-folk of her earliest records, but 2019’s simultaneously insular and inviting, Mercury Prize-nominated Reward displayed her at the peak of her powers: “I love you, I love you, I love you/But you’re not here,” Le Bon sang on that album’s first single, “Daylight Matters,” in her magisterial lilt.
“Running Away,” the first single from Le Bon’s upcoming sixth solo album (and Reward follow-up), Pompeii, is another brilliantly wayward progression. Longtime collaborator Samur Khouja co-produces with Le Bon, who plays all the instruments except for drums (Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa) and saxophone. The usual trademarks are here—witching-hour synth washes, bug-eyed guitar scribbles, and regal horn blasts—but rather than ramp up her previous sound, Le Bon pares back. “Running Away” feels even more spacious than the relatively sparse Reward, with the patience of a champion prizefighter. At the center of it all is Le Bon, whose surrealist lyrics eventually cohere into another beautiful koan about something special that’s gone. “It’s the sweetest thing/That you never had,” Le Bon observes, as if from a great distance. “You can’t put your arms around it/It’s not there anymore.” The specifics are never clear, but the feeling is all-encompassing.