I never ever lose sight of the fact that it’s a great privilege to write for NE:MM. I can highly recommend it. And one of the greatest of all NE:MM pleasures is the opportunity to listen to music that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to hear. So I’m sure you’ll agree that when the chance presented itself to review a welsh-language science fiction concept album by Gwenno it was just too tempting to refuse.
Now I’m not a natural with languages by any means and much of what I do know (which is not much) has come from music. Naturally, like many, I feel that my Welsh bases are covered by Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. And, courtesy of Kraftwerk, I can count to four in a variety of tongues.
With that in mind it should probably go without saying that everything that you read below comes with the strongest of caveats, namely that whenever I comment on the mood of an individual track, the lyrics, on which I’m unable to comment, may portray entirely the opposite.
Y Dydd Olaf takes its inspiration from Owain Owain’s 1976 dystopian novel of the same name, in which the future world has been taken over by robots. Technically its imminent arrival on Heavenly Records is a re-release of an album that sold out its original stock when issued on Peski records. Without the benefit of being able to follow the lyrics (I promise not to bang on about this) Gwenno’s voice becomes more of a lead musical instrument and in that regard it’s an extremely accomplished one. The former Pipette, and recent support act on Gruff Rhys’ ‘American Interior’ tour, has a distinctive, sweet, slightly breathless voice somewhere between that of Saint Etiennne’s Sarah Cracknell, Virginia Astley and Julee Cruise.
‘Chwyldro’ is an optimistic opener and one of the best here. It subtly draws the listener in, as an opening tune should do. There’s a Krautrock feel to many parts of the album, and this, coupled with an atmosphere of retro electronics somehow fuses to make a whole that sounds genuinely futuristic.
Chwyldro by Gwenno
‘Patriarchaeth’, with its ‘wasp in a jar’ introduction, and ‘Sisial Y Mor’ with hypnotic, repetitive piano backing are also particularly strong, but the three highest points here are ‘Calon Peirant’, ‘Stwff’ and ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’. ‘Calon Peirant’ is a subtle, tuneful grower, while ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’ superbly blends retro synthesisers and drum sounds with a wonderfully hummable melody. And if Twin Peaks ever does come back (and let’s hope it’s worth the wait if it does) it could do considerably worse than employing ‘Stwff’ as an integral part of its soundtrack; it has all the mesmerising menace of those original haunting tunes, with equal amounts of beauty and foreboding, all wrapped up in a package that seems to include icicles and plant pots among the musical accompaniment.
Y Dydd Olaf is a very impressive album that could only have been improved if I’d understood any of it. And for any Welsh speaking readers out there, who are feeling smug, please be aware that one of the tracks is sung in Cornish.
Reviewer: Neil Pace