Cate Le Bon first appeared, three albums ago, as an artist whose project seemed limited to reworking Nico's Chelsea Girl. Like Nico, Le Bon's vocal presence on recordings is so wispy you keep waiting for it to be carried off by the wind and vanish. It's a kind of fairytale-princess posturing, ethereal and demure. Also like Nico, Le Bon possesses a darkness under the surface, a poisonous haze that comes through on tracks like "Mirror Me," where her repetition of "Like I want you to see me" begins to take on a taut hysteria.
Though songs on Mug Museum, like "Mirror Me," tend to spin out by the end into free-jazzy improvisational riffs, the album works as a 1960s-style psychedelic pop record, mostly because of those dark notes. The gallows humor evident on "No God" and the lava-lamp echo chamber of "Cuckoo Through the Walls" make Mug Museum more bewitching and weirder than Le Bon's earlier albums. That's a good thing.
The album's strangeness is held in balance by its lighter side, a series of catchy, endearing pop songs like "Are You With Me Now?," "I Can't Help You," "Duke" and "Sisters." While the songs on 2012's Cyrk often felt overworked, Mug Museum feels effortless throughout. It's fitting that the Le Bon album that sounds most like something recorded in the 1960s shows her finally coming out of Nico's shadow.