RECENT WELSH MUSIC YOU MAY HAVE MISSED | REVIEW
Beginning February’s batch with a Swansea group who are touted as having the musical spirit of Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, Krautrock royalty Can and Neu!, and the Plastic Ono Band. Sounds pretty cool, huh? This is Dark Too Long (Libertino), the new single by Bandicoot, and I guess there might be an object lesson buried in here about how those acts’ pioneering work has been absorbed into the rock lexicon over the decades, as it basically sounds like a regular slice of uptempo garage/blues/boogie to me. Nothing wrong with that though! Tasty guitar tone on this one and the indication that Bandicoot’s debut album, when it finally arrives, should be diverting.
Onjob, the new single by Astroid Boys MC Benji Wild, comes with an expectedly gully production from the late great Stagga and a righteous video incorporating footage of January’s protests at the police-custody death of Mohamud Mohammed Hassan in Cardiff. There’s some metal guitar amidst the general doomy atmos but the grimy/road rap Onjob feels pretty distinct from Astroid Boys’ crossover party vibe, and is way more up my alley as it goes.
Cai, a solo artist from Penygroes in north Wales, emailed Buzz with the subject header “New song that goes do do do do”. No lies were detected on playing Anghofio Am Chdi, a lolloping indiepop number whose chorus does just that in between the sunny jangle and insistent electric piano of the verses. Cai also notes a hip-hop influence, which might account for the shift in vocal style towards the close, although I could as easily believe he was trying to sound like Steve Malkmus or someone.
Another month, another release from the camp of west Wales psychedelic drifters Sendelica: this one appears to be a solo venture by the band’s guitarist Pete Bingham, as The Fellowship Of Hallucinatory Voyagers. I say solo, but there’s a twist: Bingham and Rhiannon Jones, a painter, created music and art respectively inspired by each other’s work. On the musical side, the result is The Imaginary Gallery (Frg), 11 atmospheric instrumental guitar-and-synth pieces – relatively brief compared to Sendelica’s often epic song lengths but replete with calming qualities.
Cardiff trio Finn & The Jacques describe themselves as “glam folk”, and though it seems slightly ambiguous if you’re supposed to be able to detect a glam influence in their music, again I can’t say it’s something that would have been apparent to me on the basis of Berlin if it hadn’t been mentioned. This song, inspired by frontperson Finn Pelling’s positive experiences in the city of the title, and companion track Born Under Bad Stars are very polished post-Decemberists type stuff with cajón percussion for that open mic feel we all love.
Fnools, from Newport, are Steve Woodward and Ken Moore plus extra helping hands on That Strange Disconnect, their second album. Eleven songs of punk-psych gadding about, occasionally tipping into whimsy but invariably sporting a fine riff or oddly memorable hook, is found within. But there’s more! Woodward and Moore go back, musically, to the Newport DIY punk scene of the late 70s and early 80s, both playing in Ralph & The Ponytails – whose eponymous frontman is remembered here, on Me & Ralph –and Discount Chiefs. Julian Hayman, also of the latter, is one of Fnools’ helping hands here, as is Woodward’s daughter Kate, who now makes really interesting music in Obey Cobra among other incarnations. Stuff like this is the stuff of life, if you ask me.
Abergavenny, Cardiff and Herefordshire all have a geographical claim on Honey B McKenna [above], a solo electronic pop artist with remixing and DJing also on her CV. Her three-song debut EP 1:11 has a Nordic cool you might associate with Robyn and Annie – although, paradoxically, both of those are most appealing for being willing to sing about things going pear-shaped and basically uncool, and so it proves here with Honey, who pours relatable melancholy over modish pop-house and crisp electro.
The big, emotionally arresting voice and folk-soul retromania of Pembrokeshire’s Jodie Marie looked, for a brief period nearly a decade ago, like it might propel her to stardom. Didn’t transpire that way, and her third album The Answer is released on her own label Carmel – however, when you consider it shares a name with the converted chapel Jodie and her fella converted into a house/recording studio, things don’t seem to have turned out too bad. Furthermore, The Answer is such a stylistically impeccable suite of Detroit-via-Laurel Canyon analogue pop, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this, rather than 2012 debut Mountain Echo, was her would-be breakthrough hit. She’s kept Ed Harcourt around as a co-writer from those early days, too.
In March 2020 I reviewed Thin Layers, a standalone song released by Cymro-Polish synthpop duo 100% Rabbit, and enjoyed its weird mid-80s electro vibe: Detroit via (Depeche Mode’s) Basildon, to reference the last review in unlikely manner. That track is the last of seven on new EP Inner Villain, which also takes in early Madonna stridency on Minimal Animal, an unlikely Beatles-but-80s trippiness for Inner Villain and a cover of Android Warehouse by Steely Dan, who my sources tell me are some kind of meme band enjoyed by young people.
Electronica meets post-rock, as smoothly as if that was the plan for post-rock all long, on Ritual Cloak’s [pictured, top] new single Opaque Crater (Bubblewrap). A Cardiff-based duo of Dan Barnett and Andrew Sanders, both with multiple past credits but previously together in Nyet Klub, this song precedes a second RC album, due in spring, and combines a prog-worthy guitar figure with a mechanised backbeat and a lil’ whooshing crescendo. Could imagine fans of Jon Hopkins and the like feeling this.
More coupled-up rural studio action in the form of Samana – Rebecca Harris and Franklin Mockett, who started out in Brighton but live and record in a Brecon Beacons farmhouse. Their 2019 debut album was released via FatCat, although this three-song followup EP, Melancholy Heat, isn’t (Paperhouse Music seem to be responsible). Samana’s beat is shoegazey, navelgazey country-rock with nice jazzy drum brushes and an aura not unlike Mazzy Star (the title track) or Jeff Buckley (All One Breath).
SpünDay, from one or more parts of the Rhondda, released a debut album last autumn which was one of the madder things I’d heard for some time: noisy rock with eyebrow-raising song subjects and large chunks of sampled material inserted where/when it would be least expected. Set Phasers To…, its five-song followup, does not noticeably refine its approach, from the introductory NWA reference (“you are about to witness the strength of Welsh knowledge”) onwards. So as well as ample baggy rock grooving and dubby ambient noodle, we get A Night Out With Beast, whose brisk breakbeats are graced by Doc Britton’s dramatic reading from the letters of infamous conspiracy paranoiac Francis E. Dec. Always glad to find more ‘Dec-heads’ in the wild.
Achilles and Ghost, two songs on modern, portable cassette or simply old-fashioned streaming services, mark the return of Strata Florida: a duo based in, I think, Ceredigion (indeed named after an abbey there). They’re an intriguing matchup of Louise Trehy, formerly of early 90s 4AD Records band Swallow, and Peter Pavli, musician on some serious UK counterculture gold from High Tide’s 1969 proto-metal classic Sea Shanties onwards. Trehy informs me the tapes have been dubbed by Adrian Shaw, an ex-Hawkwind dude with an even more storied history in the psych underground – and check out the box [above] she’s assembled for them to go in (sold out now by the looks). The songs, which also feature Swallow’s Mike Mason, are powered by fuzzy-edged gothic basslines, 90s ambient techno bubble and vocals which invite the ‘ethereal’ cliché but ensure it’s no faint praise.
Amelia Unity’s second EP is another posthumous credit for Stagga, who recorded three songs with the Cardiff MC at his Fat Fridge studio space. Another tentacle of the main Ladies Of Rage body, Garden Of My Soul is laidback, jazz and blues-informed, nostalgic and front-facing at once, even – yes – ethereal on the dubwise title track. Blueberry Flapjacks drills down to the intimate details in every sense, over a neat folky guitar figure, and is enlivened by some guest rhymes from Szwé, a Zimbabwe-born, south Wales-based rapper.
Finally this month, we have Electric Soup’s Lockdown Sessions 2020-21 digital compilation: two tracks, or video clips, each from four south Walian acts of a roughly electronic bent. Electric Soup is the live music wing of Cardiff’s MADE Gallery, who in recent months have recorded some performances to be watched/listened to online. Shreddies is a relatively new name, though has played in various bands under real name Josh Dickins; ditto Boris A Bono, aka Rory Coughlan-Allen. Jason & Becky, a Swansea-based live art duo, offer trancey 90s style techno and Ëadyth is as good as ever with her twisty electronic r’n’b on Tyfu.
words NOEL GARDNER