RECENT WELSH MUSIC YOU MAY HAVE MISSED | REVIEW
Unless you happen to be reading from one of the few places on Earth which are not spirit-sapping hellholes, the publication of this reviews column risks upset: this month I’m focusing on electronic music, much of it evidently made with a view to being played in clubs which remain out of bounds. O tempora, o mores! That being said, there is at least as many releases of the ‘home listening’ variety here, indeed the tendency to deem all this stuff one thing or the other is not one I endorse really.
Owain Griffiths’ second album as Carw [below] was recorded in his current home of Leipzig – he moved there from Cardiff, where he’d played in bands such as Violas, and states it was inspired by the feelings of isolation and cultural displacement that followed. The seven tracks on Maske (Blinc) are all instrumental, so we’ll have to take him at his word, but are very pleasant if music somewhere between 90s ambient techno, 80s synthpop and the melancholy sweeps of someone like Jon Hopkins sounds good to you.
The debut album by Cardiff artist Dead Method (aka Lloyd Best, left) is again a quasi-conceptual work, both a celebration of one’s sexual identity and an examination of the societal context of that. Or, in the words of Best, “the washing away of decades of turmoil, societal oppression and the subjugation that I have faced as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.” Queer Genesis (Afanc) combines sharp, modish digital arrangements and blowsy computer-pop ballads, with a future-r’n’b edge to the vocals; it includes a collab track with another Cardiff-based producer, HVNTER, and marks Dead Method out as pursuing a sound and aesthetic shared by few if any other artists in the area.
Ghostlawns [below] are a “collective”, again based in Cardiff – sorry for the geographical repetition, I order these columns alphabetically and this is how it turned out – who offer an electronified spin on rock with their somewhat accurately-titled debut album Motorik (Sub). Of the four members, you may have seen Andrew Plain perform in Right Hand Left Hand, whose combination of riffs and loops is conceptually not that similar to Ghostlawns but shares certain touchstones in the execution – likewise Gulp, Steven Goundrey from whom also features here. The nine songs’ tightly-conceived, widescreen meld of Krautrock, post-rock and indie variously calls to (my) mind Moon Duo and Public Service Broadcasting, and closes with a frantically-paced raver titled When In Cathays.
The first incident of Proper Club Music made by clubbers for clubs comes in the form of Harrison BDP’s Sound Expansion Meditation EP on the Shall Not Fade label. Harrison Webber, naturally based in Cardiff, has banged out four or five 12”s over each of the last four years, honing his wonky/dubby/deep house craft as he goes and picking up a real following. This one stretches beyond half an hour, opening subtly but building like a DJ set; Red Love Don’t Fade is the pick of the five tracks for my money, analogue euphoria that could have come out 30 years ago but in a good way.
Tom, the fella behind Lo Pan, has played in a couple of guitar-based Cardiff bands (Masts and All I Heard Was Static) in his time, and under this name has been reviewed in Buzz with an instrumental hip-hop beat tape type thing. Isn’t Life Disappointing?, a digital self-release, changes tack with 11 tracks of melodic IDM: widescreen synth sweeps combine with jittery, acid-y elements and crisp breakbeats that can either burble along cheerily or erupt into Squarepusher-style post-junglisms, as on album highlight Blue Fox (all the titles contain a colour and a noun, for whatever reason).
A spinoff, or maybe alter ego, of west Wales spacerock warriors Sendelica, the latest release by The Lost Stoned Pandas features three tracks assembled remotely during spring. Pandademic (Frg) comes in a 12” black disco sleeve and is presented as remixes: ambient pioneers The Orb tackle The Great Lockdown Of 2020 and dub it the ‘Freedom Over Fear’ mix, which gets my libertarian conspiracy knobhead radar beeping but might be more benign. The same track is again remixed (as ‘Dr Benway’s Cure’) by Sendelica member Colin Consterdine, lasting 14 minutes and on a rather agreeable, quite unexpected dub-trance tip.
“Horror-inspired electronica” is what Lupo Rosso (Adam Chard, Cardiff) promises on his debut album Hell (self-released), which I guess means legendary Italian soundtrack specialists Goblin and music that came in their wake. Various chilly keyboard parts and eerie vocals, mostly cut-up excepting penultimate track The Toll, nod to this aesthetic for sure, but Lupo Rosso isn’t a retro exercise, or not from one specific era at any rate. Some of this album feels like electroclash’s less trashy, more cinematic end – Black Strobe, say – which is no bad thing at all.
Here’s two tracks of classic techno/house lushness, uploaded to Bandcamp a few weeks ago and credited to Robert Frederik but otherwise a totally mysterious entity to me right now. A Newport fella living in Cardiff (I think), both Beatnik and Only The Lonely canter elegantly, for seven and a bit minutes apiece, not much more than midtempo analogue beats, crystalline synths and stark bleeps but doing so much with so little. So blissful it’s almost ambient, though as with many things I suspect this would dissipate if/when cranked through big speakers, if you like Juan Atkins or Ian O’Brien to name but two, Robert should have something for you.
Aberystwyth duo Roughion have released their latest music as a T-shirt, sort of. You can just listen to the music in question – an eight-minute tune titled Comply, dramatic acid house-ish stuff that sounds as suited to arenas as low-ceilinged nightspots – online if you like, but if you purchase the garment here then you get the track sent to you along with an album-length compilation of Roughion’s previous music. Looks nice, too, though you might want to stash it away for T-shirt weather I suppose.
Says here, as in Starlings Planet’s Bandcamp page, that this Cardiffian two-piece have an album out in autumn of this year, which is very much upon us, but absent further evidence of it I’ll consider the three tracks they’ve uploaded in the last month or so. Their thing is lo-fi outsider synthpop that could have been the work of some long lost early 80s cassette culture band – that means I dig it! Secrets seems to be a paean to being a teenage goth, M.O.B pays perhaps not totally sincere tribute to the Marquis Of Bute via nonsense verse and (The) Action Man throws some Wire and proto-EBM into the mix too.
Its title causing me to thump the table, wipe a tear from my eye etc, Merking From Home is (I think) the debut album by Rhys Evans as Stereoripe, a solo electronic producer from Cardiff via the Valleys. Definitely the best stuff I’ve heard from him, too, moving from august dub techno (My Time) to excitable 8-bit instrumental grime (Merk Flow, Who’s In Charge) to mid-00s style dubstep that’s meditative but kinda aggy with it (Confrontation). Evans notes that this release is “unbound by genre or BPM”, and that holds, but equally this sequence of tracks, mostly over and out inside four minutes, holds together nicely.
Susan Matthews lives in Carmarthenshire and is a quietly important cog in the UK experimental underground, having chalked up dozens of releases in the last 15 years, mostly short run CDRs. Her latest two – or it might be a double album, although you can buy both parts separately – Between The Dream And The Waking… / There Is Hope (on her own Sirenwire label) amounts to 80 minutes or so of darkly droning ambience, slow, beat-free and minimal. People doing similar music at the moment include, though are by no means limited to, Richard Skelton, Matthew Shaw and Celer; Nameless, from the second of the two discs, is as powerful as this sound gets.
Tina Hitchens [top – photo credit Kirsten McTernan], recording here as Tisla – her solo project among several collaborative ones – lives in Bristol but is from south Wales, and indeed spent several years in bands and ensembles before moving. Six-song EP Up, Out, released via her Bandcamp, follows up a cool tape from last year and bundles her pop-centric and experimental leanings into one package: ‘real’ instruments including flute and ukulele (not that I can really detect the latter) are processed, along with quavering vocals, into affecting songs which computerise emotion in the best way. You might get a spicy burst of deconstructed electronics one minute, cf Not My, Or I, then a slow, moonlit almost-ballad like Always The Way It Should – and that is the way it should, says I.
Like Harrison BDP, Warwick (James Thompson) is a Cardiff producer in his 20s whose tunes have got picked up by tastemaker labels outside Wales and indeed the UK, and has been getting pressed to wax at an impressive rate this year. The four-track Do My Thing 12” is his second on Lobster Theremin, and it’s equal parts moody and joyous in its UK bass-soaked take on tuff Chicago acid. Notwithstanding What I Mean getting reet wonky halfway through, this stuff is primed to burn up dancefloors, which is to say it rules that producers haven’t stopped releasing music with that goal in mind at all.
Finally, this week sees drum’n’bass producer Kyam drop the first vinyl release on his Unbidden Audio label: Cold March Of Regress, a four-track compilation 12” with a badass sounding title. Kyam himself, formally known as Matthew Strangis, is a local boy for our concerns, but Elementz Of Noize, who open the EP, are Geordie d’n’b veterans who come good here with spacey slow-roller Boreal Forest. They’re followed by German producer Dreadmaul, in gnarly, industrial mood for Wendigo, and Kyam has two tracks on the B-side – Cold March, a percussion-forward combo of eerie synths and goofy syncopation, and Duplicity, remixed in quasi-dub fashion by American d’n’b producer Homemade Weapons.