Saturday, October 20, 2018

Language lessons


Since 2007, Swn Festival has been bringing established acts to Cardiff as well as providing an invaluable platform for new talent to shine, and championing the best that Wales can boast as well as showcasing acts from further afield. This year's edition, now under the stewardship of Clwb Ifor Bach, is no different - as the bill for its opening night testifies.

Heavenly Recordings' Halo Maud hail from across the Channel and ooze Gallic cool. At times, when underpinning dream pop with fantastic basslines, they're like Beach House with a groove; at others, when creating busier, more experimental songs, it's Braids they bring to mind. There is, however, a certain je ne sais quoi about them that is all their own, and that makes worthy of further investigation.

Equally impossible to pin down are Adwaith, currently the jewels in Libertino Records' crown. The Carmarthen trio's name translates as "reaction", and reaction is exactly what their debut LP Melyn has been getting - the vast majority of it enthusiastically positive. That old favourite 'Lipstick Coch' is rather thrown away at the start of the set is a measure of their confidence in the strength of the newer material - confidence that, it transpires, is far from misplaced.

The Slits' dubby post-punk is a touchstone throughout, though 'Y Diweddaraf' shifts sharply and effectively into garage rock gear and 'Gartref' is moodier and more atmospheric, benefiting from some My Bloody Valentine-esque pitch-bending towards the end. The Manics' James Dean Bradfield, who has remixed the latter track, watches on approvingly - as, indeed, do the rest of us.

Headlining the inaugural gig of Swn 2018 in her home city caps a memorable week for Gwenno, after her second album Le Kov was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize. Her first, Y Dydd Olaf, scooped the award in 2015 and it would be no surprise if its follow-up repeated the trick.

Le Kov - meaning "the place of memory" - is chiefly notable for the fact that its lyrics are in Kernewek, but this is no cheap attention-grabbing stunt; on the contrary, it's Gwenno's heartfelt tribute to and celebration of her heritage, as the trilingual daughter of Cornish-speaking poet Tim Saunders. Minority languages, she knows, are something to be fought for in the face of cultural imperialism. "The man who has lost his tongue has lost his land", she declares, paraphrasing an old Cornish saying, by way of introducing 'Den Heb Tawes' - a song that, while relatively subdued on record, becomes furious and utterly electrifying live.

What is also more apparent when witnessing Gwenno in the flesh - particularly with tracks like 'Chwyldro' - is that, together with Jane Weaver and Josefin Ohrn, she is drawing on a palette that includes Stereolab and Broadcast to create a retrofuturist, synth-heavy form of psych, one that is distinct from both nostalgic 60s-flavoured 'Strawberry Fields Forever'-type daydreams and the sort made by bearded metallers who've recently discovered acid. Not that she ever loses touch with pop, though, as 'Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki' underlines. Neither does she take herself too seriously - the main set ends with 'Eus Keus?', which finds her reeling off a list of Cornish placenames before asking if there's any cheese.

The lights go up, but soon they're down again, as Gwenno and her band return for a rendition of 'Amser', the last track on Y Dydd Olaf, with lyrics written by her dad. The words might be someone else's, but she's in complete command of them - just as she has been of the stage and the audience all night.

(An edited version of this review appeared on the Buzz website.)


skif said...

Love a bit of Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki. Sadly, didn't make it to Gwenno's tour this time round, but did catch an instore when Le Kov came out - all reports suggest I was wrong to dip out this time - pics of the visuals at her London gig looked incredible

Ta for the tip on Adwaith as well - listening now - very nice stuff.

Ben said...

I haven't given either of Gwenno's albums the time they deserve, but she was very good live. For me, Adwaith have got serious promise but aren't the finished article yet - need to be a bit more focused, perhaps?