The best music to come out of Wales in 2021 – in this reporter’s opinion, if you insist on that bit – is by Alice Low, who moved to Cardiff during lockdown and played her debut live show at October’s Sŵn Festival. That the music I’m referring to is a 14-minute, multiple-segmented song titled Ladydaddy is to say nothing bad of Cry-Baby, its followup – which is ‘regular pop song’ length, suave and sexual lyrically, and its pianos and gurning rawk solos hark back to 70s auteur pop (Todd Rundgren or even Paul McCartney) on a DIY budget.
A follow-up to a review of a single track, posted back in June and featuring Anatomist – a resident of Cornwall whose side-on-leaning electronica sounded great when he emerged in the Cardiff scene back in the lateish 2000s. Black Smoke Curls, on another Welsh escapee – the Machine. label, now located in New Zealand, it sounds like Anatomist’s been on a bit of a dub techno journey at points, Drifting and Master Stroke hinting at someone like Porter Ricks. Other cuts like Chastised are similarly moody, with deep basslines, but have tasty (if your tastes align suitably, obv) 90s IDM drum trickery.
Chain of Flowers
The best music to come out of Wales around the mid-2010s might have been Chain Of Flowers – at least, their ear-ringing, dramatic indie classicism with a hardcore punk sensibility was a real standout attraction, especially on bills of harder and faster bands. They’ve just released Flowers Everywhere (Vol 1: 2012-2017), a Bandcacomp of songs from their early cassettes, thus an excuse to speak fondly of songs like Sleep, Clutching The Night and their cover of Spectrum’s How You Satisfy Me. (The single they released earlier this year is boss, as well.)
Another, newer, Cardiff band on a heavy-lidded shoegaze tip are Clwb Fuzz, whose latest digi-single God (Let You Lose) arrives on what seems to be a brand new label, Black Dog. There’s some form of social commentary in the lyrics but if you just get bowled along by the big crescendoing guitars, sort of like a goth-punk Spiritualized, that’s no crime. Produced by Tom Rees from Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, Clwb Fuzz are playing in their home city’s Tiny Rebel venue this month if like me you’re curious as to whether they can replicate that sound live.
Crypt Rot are a two-piece death metal band, with drums handled by a machine, who I think are based in Cardiff and are unrelated to the American death metal band also called Crypt Rot. Search engines exist, guys! This self-titled, three-song cassette debut on the FHED label is good craic though. Tom Hughes’ guitars and bass are tuned way down, giving a hint of death-doom at times, while vocalist Kyle Shaun Thomas favours slam death-style gurgling unintelligibility a la Devourment and the like.
Swansea indiepop icon Helen Love, longer-standing custodian of the programmed beat, trails her forthcoming 10th album with its title track, This Is My World, on the Alcopop! label. A Helen Love song can only sound like Helen Love, essentially, yet this is a curveball in many ways: synthesized strings and brass soundtrack Helen’s memoir-esque lyrical tack, unusually personal and melancholy and perhaps closer to, say, Erasure than this project’s best known, high-energy songs.
The debut album by Papur Wal, a trio of north Wales lads living in Cardiff, arrives via the Libertino label, and is by no means the only thing they’ve released to retool the more classic rock-friendly side of Pavement for the Welsh language set. This isn’t the only thing done on Amser Mynd Adra, which has its janglepop and psych moments too, but describes album centrepiece Haul Chewfror and closing number Anifeiliaid Anwes (Fi, Efo Hi) well enough. An injection of pedal steel on penultimate song Nôl Ac Yn Ôl is nice, in the way pedal steel invariably is.
From Cardiff and with several collective decades of band-doing between them, Scrape self-released their debut EP Armed With A Mindset at the start of this month. That title strikes me as very ‘early 90s hardcore band who are metal-adjacent enough to get reviewed in Kerrang!’ and that’s not a terrible description of this music either (if I say so myself). Eggshells has an almost NWOBHM gallop at certain points, while elsewhere there’s incidents of stoner chug, groove-metal guitar squeal and – on Booze And Good Company, final song of four – a very rap-rock type of rapping. Armed… fair took me back, but it’s more than valid here and now too! Disclaimer: one of Buzz’s regular writers plays drums for Scrape.
Sleep Outside are “based between Cardiff and London,” it says here. This often makes me suspicious that someone is trying to pull a fast one on me by soliciting regional coverage of an act whose connection to the region is tenuous. Then I remember that people probably aren’t desperate for our custom to bother with all that. Are they? Anyway, Sleep Outside’s debut EP This Won’t Ever Last has a song about Cathays Community Centre and the singer works in Kongs. More relevantly, their music is slick, transitional emo-rock with a yen for the twinkly, heart-rending 90s types as well as the post-millennial acts who took the term into the mainstream. They chuck in a few wonky time signatures (Skeleton) but their riffs can soar poppishly.
Sunken Grove is a project by Ellis Green, based right on the Powys/Herefordshire border if my intel is right, and in the last 18 months seems to have made a name for itself in the – admittedly insular, yet global – ‘dungeon synth’ community. Unlike a lot of dungeon synth, Sunken Grove doesn’t seem to come from a black metal background; latest EP In The Shades Of Sleeping Leaves touts an aesthetic of rural folky ambience across five instrumental keyboard pieces. Permeating Visions Of Emerald Figures has the most fulsome title and a delicate precision not unlike Roedelius or other German synth pioneers.
When William J emailed me a link to a Soundcloud track of his some months back he described it as “Kurt Vile-esque,” and truth be told maybe that didn’t spur me to repeated listens. (I’ve enjoyed Kurt Vile in my time but tuned out at some point.) He sent two more, though, Wild West and Sunflower, and is calling them a single – and I’m into it. They both shimmer extensively, Johnson (that being his full surname) moving between trip-hoppy drums, goofy synth sections and freewheeling folk guitar. The second track’s my pick, for trying a DIY shoegaze suit on for size and ending up somewhere near Flying Saucer Attack and their 90s Bristol peers.
words NOEL GARDNER
Events are Back!
If you’re running or promoting events in Wales, list them here for FREE.