Another voyage to the fringes, depths and corners of new Welsh music this August with Noel Gardner leading you on a merry dance from barnyard folk to Carmarthenshire rave, via psychedelia, indie, electronica and metal.
ANGHARAD JENKINS & PATRICK RIMES
The latest release on Tŷ Cerdd, a label that promotes contemporary Welsh musicians working in the classical and folk realms – often the intersection between them, in fact – is Amrwd by Angharad Jenkins & Patrick Rimes, two of the several members of Celtic folk-rockers Calan. That group aren’t really my thing, truth be told, but Rimes’ other group VRï often are, and when Amrwd hints at their austere, string-driven chamber sound, it makes for some of my album highlights (closing number The Seatons for one). Moreover, as much as Jenkins possesses a strong, cut-glass voice, when the duo relinquish the mic and play one for the dancers – boisterous fiddle/handdrum workout Du Fel Y Glo notably – they sound in their element.
Next up on August’s new Welsh music roundup is Egg Spectrum, the solo alias of a guy from Swansea named Edward Hancock, who is also a member of the band Rainyday Rainbow, which used to be his solo alias, and was itself shortened from Only Rainyday Rainbow. That was a real rollercoaster of a sentence, huh? Augmented by other musicians, it seems Hancock plans to polish up his burbling, impulse-acting straight-to-tape psych jam aesthetic, but on Egg Spectrum Vs The Void he’s sticking right in the mire – and rightly so! His guitar style is malformed inverse blues, his vocals a wizardy cackle, and his approach to studio FX seemingly aims to obfuscate rather than elevate. I was moved to ponder Royal Trux, The Bevis Frond and Pearls Before Swine during these 10 songs – all acts who demonstrated both an ability to write conventional songs and a determination not to.
One of the maddest sounding albums I’ve heard all year, and… a cult hit in the making? Frontier Nua is Jason Rouse, an Irishman who lives in Cardiff and plays the uilleann pipes. So far, so trad. This, Rouse’s self-titled debut album under this name, takes that misty Celtic sound and recreates it in the style of an early 90s adventure video game soundtrack, using a mix of live instruments – I assume the pipes – converted to MIDI and direct programming on digital emulators. It is a meeting of aesthetics that absolutely no-one asked for or previously imagined, and I am a huge fan of it for that reason. In the unlikely event of any fans of implausible microgenre ‘comfy synth’ reading this, Frontier Nua is a – probably unwitting – exemplar of it.
Who were the first ‘Pavement, but in Welsh’ band – are there any pre-millennial examples? – and do they appreciate what they spawned? Quite a lot of Welsh-language bands who sound like Pavement, is the slightly unexciting answer to that; Hyll, a four-piece from Cardiff, are the latest (to release an album, at least) and I find them quite endearing. Sŵn O’r Stafell Arall (Jigcal), their debut after eight or so years active, is a dead-on take on the American originators circa Crooked Rain, clanging languidly with a hint of country twang and wrenching out atonal solos on numbers like Mike. As far new Welsh music goes this month, its saunter into punkier territory occurs with Na before Weekender Forever concludes matters over six baleful minutes.
JEREMY GLUCK & PAUL HAZEL
These two musicians both live in Swansea and, prior to moving there, each notched up extensive, disparate CVs. Gluck, who works in teaching as a dayjob, played in 80s new wave band The Barracudas before recording an LP with an eyepopping backing band (Rowland S. Howard and Jeffrey Lee Pierce!); Hazel recorded some prized mid-90s techno 12”s for Dave Angel’s Rotation label. On #EBDB, or “everything’s been done before”, the duo combine to pay homage to Warholian notions of reappropriation and anti-copyright, with Gluck’s strident (and I think pitched down) spoken word vocals overhanging seven tracks of expansive electronica. Funnily enough, given the premise, the results strike me as pretty original, or at least without a single obvious parallel, and Gluck has some neat turns of phrase even if I’m less than always sure what they mean.
The Death Proof label, whose operations are split between Newport and Paris it seems, returns to the Welsh music scene with a short suite of updated techy breakbeat tackle from Kodiaks – a production duo of Death Proof co-founder Paul Blandford and Doug Nicholls, whose solo work as The Running Man I reviewed warmly last year. Lead track Growler mixes up dub techno chords, paranoid electro/acid melodies and post-junglist drum programming. Growler is remixed by Aubrey Fry in a spacious quasi-trancey style, and a sort of garage-meets-breaks one from Ragdy, before we finish with another Kodiaks original The Mule: funky acid stuff with almost cosmic disco-type synths which work either despite or because of their incongruity.
Great to have James ‘Jimbob’ Isaac back in the rock saddle for this month’s new Welsh music roundup, six years since his last musical output as guitarist and singer in Hark. That band had continued the complex, expansive metallisms Jimbob had blueprinted in his first band, Taint – and now, back settled in Swansea, he’s released a solo album, Self Induced Transcendental Annihilation, as Silverburn. If ‘solo album’ makes you assume introspective acoustic moods or something else that sounds like it’s being played by one person, recalibrate your expectations because Jimbob played everything on here (I didn’t even know he could drum!) and if anything it’s proggier and more temporally complex than his previous bands. As expected, though, there are absolutely stacks of riffs and if you already dug his style you definitely shouldn’t be disappointed.
SOFT HEARTED SCIENTISTS
First studio album since 2016 for Cardiff band Soft Hearted Scientists, who date back to the beginning of this century and have carried on dropping music consistently ever since (despite that seven-year gap, SHS singer Nathan Hall has released over a dozen albums and EPs in that time), and whose jovial psychedelic pop-rock answers, stylistically, to pretty much no-one but themselves. Waltz Of The Weekend, on their own label The Hip Replacement, is 75 minutes long and many of its songs sound exactly like all of Soft Hearted Scientists’ previous albums – but, notably, other songs don’t. Several of them are lengthy (as much as 11 minutes) and meandering and/or expansive as a result, and production-wise they and studio brain Frank Naughton try some dub effects and multitracked vocals and suchlike.
Here’s a full-length cassette album by clandestine pistoning braindancers Somatic Responses, two brothers from Ammanford who’ve been making serious biz electronic music for nearly 30 years. Doomsday Conduit, released by Irish label Acroplane, is an exemplar of that grand evolution, in that its beats are nail-hard, its synths akin to the meanest acid techno of yore – the sort of fare John and Paul Healy released on German hardcore labels in the 90s – but they also make room for shivery dark ambient parts and breakbeats assembled with cutting-edge digital precision. Photon Barrage is an early high watermark, nasty/tasty wacko rave Aphex/Mike Dred style, and Imagined Darkness contrasts musicbox-sweet melody with deeply ruff kickdrums.
A relatively Swansea-heavy edition of this new Welsh music column continues with a cleancut-looking four-piece from the city, who harsher critics than me might argue have overegged the pudding by having ‘Swan’ in their name too. Following a late-2021 debut 7”, Swan Hill are back with a two-song cassingle on Sgeti, a label itself named after a Swansea district and which releases tapes in very (very) limited runs. A-side Rosebud is wistful, sharp-jangling early-90s college rock that borders on faux-Americanism with its lyrical reference to “TV dinners” but drops, builds and surges in all the right places. Landlines changes things up moderately, with electronic drumbeats and a guitar tone approaching ethereality; I also get a hint of Lou Barlow in the vocals of Chris Noir, which is welcome.
words NOEL GARDNER