Secret Meeting score: 79
by Philip Moss
Within six months of each other in 2016, Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley both released two of the year’s best albums. Crab Days, Le Bon’s fourth record, was a schizophrenic blast of avant-garde pop. While Presley’s The Wink – his debut solo album, which incidentally saw him team back up with Le Bon as producer following their collaboration on the first Drinks record, Hermits on Holiday – shook off the 60’s fuzz of his White Fence project and showed a straighter and starker sound.
For Hippo Lite, the pair decamped to South France – St. Hippolyte Du Fort to be precise (hence the lazy anglo-translated name of the record) where, in the words of Le Bon, they completed ‘hours of bird watching’ and had no ‘phone or wifi’. To many, this could potentially cause huge issues. But the resulting record suggests not. And not only does it not seem like missing out on the odd Instagram update didn’t cause any issues, the record oozes a vibe that suggests a wonderful time was had by all.
Opening with sweet acoustic guitars, the ironically titled Blue From The Dark is a technicoloured campfire wash of field recordings – some seemingly from the said afternoons spent bird watching – that are collaged against lazy pianos and typewriter taps. The track is a welcome into the world in which the pair immersed themselves while recording. For those of you that remember the hugely underrated Manchester band Alfie, this track along with the hypnotically catchy lead single, Corner Shops, could easily have slotted onto their Do You Imagine Things? record.
Over a metronomic beat, album highlight Real Outside shows off the record’s beautiful production, courtesy of Welsh multi-instrumentalist, Sweet Baboo. The track could easily be lifted from Le Bon’s Crab Days – hooky angular guitars that clash with off kilter drums are paired with Le Bon’s squeaky, Yoko-evoking voice- ‘I want to lie in your river, it’s real outside your house’.
If It (reprise) is a gothic horror soundtrack complete with pulsing Velvet bass stabs, Pink Or Die finds Le Bon in full nursery rhyme mode, and Greasing Up sees the pair duet – again backed by a chorus of birds – over sparse and spare instrumentation with Presley doing his best Sir Ray Davies impression.
Despite feeling somehow strangely modern, any number of tracks from this record could be stolen from a lost album from the 1960’s, or a volume of the psychedelic Nuggets series that hasn’t been issued yet, but is desperately waiting to be heard. So if there’s nothing on this weekend’s Record Store Day list that tickles your fancy, head out to your local record store and pick up this absolute treasure of an album.