A grip of new releases from all over Wales begins for alphabetical reasons in Cardigan, and on a high, with the Inta 12” by Aloka, aka Jake O’Regan. Aloka has previously appeared on cool Aussie rave imprint Steel City Dance Discs but releases through his own label Typeless here, and comes good with four tracks built from calming (if distortion-flecked) synths and aggier, punchy breakbeats. Chroma is my pick of the quartet, probably mad tough to dance to but you’d have fun trying.
Primordial Forest, the debut album by Asbjorn Daemonium De Noctis, was released last year, but has just had a cassette release on an American label, the pleasingly named Virescent Spider Records, so I’m using that as an excuse to write about it now. Asbjorn Daemonium De Noctis is the solo alias of one William Philpot, who also plays in Cardiff band Black Pyre. They are straight-up black metal and so is this, although it has blackened punk-y leanings at certain points as well as murky ambient passages. I think the drums are all programmed but the guitars sound great and the whole vibe is very much my early 90s bag.
Changing tack with whiplash abruptness, we ascend to Conwy and the first album in seven years by Denuo. The self-released Through Life comes with a nostalgically wide choice of formats, although you’ll have to wait until 2022 for the vinyl, and it moves from soft rock-leaning indie to chart-friendly 80s sophistipop – Helen, No, could almost be A-ha in its sad effervescence. This column’s favourite smoothly experimental Margate-based saxophonist, Jorja Chalmers, makes a guest appearance on album closer June, and is a judicious addition.
South Wales trio Exit_International never formally split up, I don’t think, but are dormant on account of vocalist Scott Lee Andrews living in Australia. Here, though, is a remastered reissue of their debut album Black Junk, released on CD 10 years ago and vinyl now (via the SaySomething label), and it remains an entertaining half-hour of frothy noiserock. Featuring two bassists and no guitars, the better for a glut of bottom end, Black Junk recalls the absurdism of McLusky and Les Savy Fav, with added nods to industrial metal and a sly pop sensibility. One song is titled Bowie’s Ghost, a mere five years before David Bowie’s death – talk about eerily prescient!
Group Listening, a duo of Stephen ‘Sweet Baboo’ Black and Paul Jones, have a second album due out in early 2022. As with the first, it consists of performances of other people’s music, but reinterpreted with a jazz-ish aesthetic so as to distinguish it from ‘covers’ per se. Well that’s the spiel anyway – I’ve not heard the album, but they’ve released its opening track, a take on Sunset Village by Beverley-Glenn Copeland. Black and Jones retain its sunny keyboard melodies but paint it in pastoral shades thanks chiefly to the former’s clarinet playing. Robbie Basho, Syrinx and Laraaji are among the other names interpolated on the album: mellowness anticipated.
Spanish uber-indie label Elefant pops a new single by The Hepburns into the inbox. This Llanelli band have been going since the late 80s, with some gaps here and there but currently featuring their original core trio, and sounding very sprightly too. The Other Side Of Grey features guest vocals from Dutchwoman Estella Rosa and sports a bossa nova element amidst its midpaced jangle; Midnight Guy pulls much the same trick, with lyrics detailing some Bond-type high society denizen.
The generational divide between the term ‘indiepop’ and its use – now, and then – is encapsulated by the above band and Usk singer-songwriter Katielou, respectively. Katielou is 20 and lists Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift as her primary influences, which feels reasonable in light of new single Boys. A country-folk strum with some loosely ethereal FX is the soundbed for lyrics which switch between self-pity and defiance, in regard to the issue of boys, and the whole package has that 80s radio pop vibe which is also pretty contemporary.
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Are you in the correct headspace to handle an album of Celtic folk balladry by four siblings named Fantasia, Harvey, Melody and Titania? You are? Great! The press release also wants you to know the names of each member’s dog: Hugo, Eowyn, Merry and Gawain. This is Dreamless Days by The Meadows, from Carmarthenshire and on their own Pokey Cupboard label; its recording (by Steve Balsamo) is polished to a fault, illuminating their classical grounding but at the expense of the folk heart perhaps. Certain moments, like the flute-led Gelli Aur, seem to echo Clannad’s spin on Irish trad.
No Thee No Ess, a roughly Cardiffian duo, follow up a couple of anticipatory singles with an album, Dimmer Switch (Surk) – their eighth, it says here. The evident fun they had recording it, with Frank Naughton of Rocketgoldstar and other projects as an extra member of sorts, is clearest on mid-album song Consumption where one or both members fails to stifle a giggle. Dropping Krautrock rhythms and spacerock synths into the mix here and there, it’s on the more surreal end of DIY country psychedelica, indeed could be described as whimsical at times (though rocks harder at others), but is never overly zany.
Not sure Punk Rock Factory, from Cwmbran, have played live in their part of the world before – maybe not anywhere – yet have sold out Cardiff’s Globe months in advance. They have achieved memetic notoriety by covering pop songs in the style of a 90s big shorts/compressed production skatepunk band, their latest salvo being 22 kids’ TV show themes titled Masters Of The Uniwurst. The main two takeaways from this is that most of these versions sound much like the originals, except faster and with gruffer vocals; and that the Punk Rock Factory concept is basically exactly the same as Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, so if you feel a gnawing gap in your life when that band aren’t releasing music, fill your boots.
Stated to currently be living in Snowdonia by Cue Dot, the label releasing his latest missive, R. Seiliog (Robin Edwards) has taken a turn for the isolationist on the seven-track Ash Dome. Past produce of his was more motoriky, euphoric, Kraut(rock)-with-a-dance-element, but here all is low-key ambience, keyboards sliding across each other and very little you’d describe as a beat. Features “binaural field recordings” collected in a Gwynedd nature reserve, according to the credits, though whether anyone other than Edwards could correctly identify them is another matter.
Finally, another archive release by Cardiff resident Jaxson Payne, this time from 2015 and under the name Xutatek. It’s fully electronic tackle but pretty different from his recent series of releases, the MIDI-Drum Compositions tapes – rather, Xutatek is nine pieces of oddly funky glitch house with an early 00s sort of vibe. Could imagine this coming out on a label like Force Tracks rather vividly – a compliment, for the avoidance of doubt. Payne has turned it into a continuous mix and this has, I think, accentuated the urge to hear this music or something like it out of a stack in a dangerously small basement. But not tonight, darling!
words NOEL GARDNER