Friday 13 December 2013, 11:58
This is the final part of the rundown of my Top 10 Favourite Welsh Albums of 2013. Elsewhere on these hallowed pages I written about, in part one (The Joy Formidable's Wolf's Law and Future Of The Left's How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident), part two (Cate Le Bon's Mug Museum and Euros Childs' Situation Comedy), part three (Sweet Baboo's Ships) and part four (Georgia Ruth's Week Of Pines and Gallops' Yours Sincerely, Dr Hardcore).
I further celebrate a great year for Welsh LPs this coming Saturday night (14 December 2013) on BBC Radio Wales.
So, back to the Top 10, in no particular order.
Trwbador - Trwbador
Trwbador are an entirely contemporary phenomenon, an example of how the seismic changes that have shaken the music industry in recent years have forced artists to be more DIY and autonomous, and very much to their advantage. Fifteen years ago Trwbador may have been A&R'd to death, sacrificing some of the freshness and individuality of their vision for the sake of a recording contract, an advance, a glossy video and the financial support to tour the nation's circuit venues.
Instead they've brewed an entirely unique sound, part contemporary electronics, part acoustic folk, mostly focused around Angharad's remarkable, crystalline vocal and Owain's intuitive ability to fashion beguiling, playful and imaginative arrangements.
Their roles aren't as strictly defined as I've detailed. Angharad is as synth-savvy as her writing partner. Owain's melodic fingerprints are all over the vocal lines.
That this debut album was released on their own Owlet record label must be a source of real pride for both of them.
However – and I hope I'm not speaking out of turn – my understanding is that the band themselves were rather bored by the album by the time it returned from the pressing plant (there is a beautiful vinyl pressing of the album, too). I didn't understand that until I saw them in October at Swn Festival.
They've evolved so far beyond the innocent charm of their early gigs, and recordings (including some of the arrangements on this album), that I can quite imagine they regard 'Trwbador' in much the same way that someone on a dizzying world trip would regard home: it's comforting to know that it was there as a starting point but when there are so many exciting, new places to visit, who wants to go back?
However, we as listeners are free to visit this excellent debut as often as we want: drawn back again and again by the Pentangle-do-Stereolab charms of Lluniau, or Gallic sitar throb of Sun In The Winter, or Casio Kate Bush of Safe. These are only reference points. One of Trwabdor's greatest strengths is that, like Melys – who are probably the only Welsh antecedent with a remotely similar approach – they mostly sound like themselves.
And the overriding sense you get listening to this album is one of possibilities and fun. The arrangements are alive with smile-inducing sonics and surprises. It's a phenomenal production.
The album tails off a little towards the end. But it's an intriguing ellipsis. If ears could inhale, mine are waiting with baited breath for whatever comes next.
Suitable for: People who do a little mouthsick when they hear the word 'folktronica' (this is so much more than a convenient weld). The sonically curious. Anyone who yearns for sound Moomins.
Unsuitable for: People who use the word 'kooky' to describe something other.
Joanna Gruesome - Weird Sister
It has been a phenomenal year for Welsh music, I think but if there's one weakpoint it's that there hasn't been a huge amount of great, fizzy, melodic thrash. That's 'thrash' with a little 't', although I'm not averse to hearing more Thrash, either.
Joanna Gruesome's debut album is that legendary, well-thumbed C86 cassette tape as revisited by a hoard of fuzzpedal wasps. Its two poles are The Field Mice and Dinosaur Jnr... its roots are in girl pop and hardcore, and the tussle between the two, with melodies sweet as candyfloss and a frantic, distorted rush that'd have Husker Du nodding with approbation (and some envy, I shouldn't wonder), is as brilliant as it is unoriginal.
Who needs original? Bloody great is a far more satisfying outcome and “bloody great” is what Weird Sister is, in spades.
Suitable for: Indie kids 14-60. Anyone whose idea of dancing is bouncing of other people and/or walls.
Unsuitable for: People who think The National are 'indie'.
Islet - Released By The Movement
Prepare for a volte face.
The Holy Grail of music, when you're an old, treeless trunk presenting a new music show, is stumbling across things that sound unlike anything you've ever heard before. So having decried originality above, here I am kneeling in front of it and paying tribute. No one expects consistency from a radio presenter anyway, do they?
Islet don't sound like anyone. Sure, there are probably obscure tape recordings of orgies in East German communes that sound a little like Released By The Movement, but they're unlikely to find their way onto the shelves at Spillers or Diverse.
Released By The Movement is a freewheeling sonic experiment, exploring the possibilities of what can be done by a handful of people in a room, who have no interest in sounding like The Beatles, or Nirvana, or Kanye West.
On occasions this album sounds like Remain In Light-era Talking Heads reinterpreted by a Gregorian choir and a marching band who have had their orange quarters spiked. And on more occasions it doesn't sound like that at all.
There are moments of beauty (Tripping Through The Blue Room pt 1 is very, very lovely) and moments so perplexing that you want to punch the album in its face with your flapping brain.
Sonically it takes a little getting used to. It doesn't aim for clarity or a constant, Volume Wars peak. It aims for room and ebb and flow, and it succeeds beautifully in that respect.
And many other respects.
It's a unique trip.
Suitable for: Aspiring Scotts of the Sonic Antarctic.
Unsuitable for: Anyone who has ever owned a recording by Ocean Colour Scene.
So that's it. My 10 Favourite Welsh albums of 2013. Buy them for someone using the entirely spurious suitable for/unsuitable for advice detailed here in. Happy Christmas/Nadolig Llawen to you all!
Very honourable mentions also to: Helen Love - Day-Glo Dreams, Metabeats - Caviar Crackle, The Gentle Good - Y Bardd Anfarwol, Los Campesinos - No Blues and Irma Vep - Deep Sea Fish.
Friday 13 December 2013, 11:37
Friday 13 December 2013, 12:35