Drinks, a collaboration between Welsh experimental-pop musician Cate Le Bon and Californian sonic-chameleon Tim Presely of White Fence (and The Fall for a brief period), have returned with their sophomore record Hippo Lite. Its creation stemmed from the following activities and amenities or lack thereof: No Wi-Fi, a month in an old mill, river swimming, night sounds. It is by their interpretation, “An album made for each other by one another with no piercing the bubble, the opposite of a typical recording experience”. While it may have been made for each other though, Hippo Lite will, if there is any justice, garner plenty of attention far beyond the duo’s remote French getaway.
Indeed, Hippo Lite isn’t an entirely conventionally constructed record. The songs refrain from finite structures and cohesive melodies. There are clusters of erratic instrumentation everywhere; notably on ‘Leave the Lights On’, a song that sounds as though it was both Le Bon and Presley’s first attempt at playing music. It possesses a looseness associated with bands like The Shaggs, an act now infamous for the circumstances in which they wrote with no prior exposure to contemporary music who were expected to figure it themselves within the confines of a basement. To a certain degree and with a few of their songs, one could come to a similar conclusion with Drinks.
‘Leave the Lights On’ is one of the more jarring aural moments where everything from a screeching violin, incessant fuzzy vibration, irregular percussive pattern and shrill vocals make for an agitated few minutes. In a similar vein, ‘Pink or Die’ commences with an energetic interplay of bumbling percussion and bass with a climax of Le Bon’s vocals festering into a menacing chant of the song’s title.
Those two tracks, fortunately coupled towards the end of the record, can be easily isolated from the otherwise wistful and romantic tones in tracks like ‘Greasing Up’ (“It’s an orchestra playing for you”) and the languid instrumental interludes ‘If It’ and ‘In The Night Kitchen’.
The nostalgic opener ‘Blue From the Dark’ hears a gorgeous coupling of piano and acoustic finger-picking offset with cosmic jitters and a baby yelping in the distance. The latter sonic layer of traces of human activity reminds the listener of the organic creation and spontaneity that fostered the development of the album. One recurring feature on Hippo Lite’s opening section is a seamless integration of futuristic sounds conjuring feelings tied to a melancholic past.
Fans of Cate Le Bon’s more recent solo records will, possibly, be more receptive to the jaunty guitar melodies that attempt to establish some semblance of a unified sound. ‘Real Outside’ and ‘In the Night Kitchen’ possess distinct Cate Le Bon traits; bumbling bass lines accompanying her trademark vocals which invariably cover a vast range between conversational to high-register singing. For some, Drinks could seem like an impenetrable force as Cate and Tom seem to have invented the songs on the spot through spontaneous singing of whatever words came to mind while simultaneously experimenting with varying sonic textures in a layered, almost Zappa manner.
Hippo Lite is an exceptionally intricate and immersive body of work that seamlessly combines the blossoms of Cate and Tim’s imaginations. The playfulness and erratic non-formulas running throughout this album remind the listener of early memories experimenting with music and the act of exploring various genres while developing one’s taste. Those moments on Hippo Lite are precious as they inspire a dizzying enthusiasm in an album that defies convention. Zara Hedderman