RECENT WELSH MUSIC YOU MAY HAVE MISSED | REVIEW
Grievously limited cassettes, vinyl, digital and some truly peculiar format gambits this month. We start with… the first of those: Acetate Fall finds one of synth-based Cardiff duo Massa Circles going solo on a tape, Remote With Static. The apple hasn’t fallen miles from the tree here, in that these five tracks are all analogue electronic instrumentals, but where Massa Circles often create a euphoric rush, Acetate Fall is weirder, more insular and crepuscular. A degree of sunlit optimism comes through in the penultimate Systole, but this feels like solo headphone listening in the main, and very good with it. Only 20 tapes available, folks!
Ash Cooke only ran off that many CDRs of his latest missive, Scattered Melodies, too. (You can get either of these digitally, to be clear, no drama.) It’s a continuous half-hour-and-change of guitar improvisation whose premise, says Bangor-based Cooke, is to approach musicianship with the same boundary-free ‘automatic playing’ ethos as is deemed legitimate in abstract painting. The cavalcade of amplified scrapes, twangs and tweaks which result nevertheless have an ancestry in the likes of Derek Bailey and Keith Rowe.
Blue Amber [pictured, top – credit Bethan Miller] is a band, strictly speaking, but having begun as the solo recording project of Cardiff’s Drew Noel, can seemingly revert to that smoothly enough if situations demand. Welsh Girl, released by Rose Parade on St David’s Day albeit with limited scope to exploit the patriotic fervour of the occasion, samples its chorus from Jessica Risker (an American folkie I’m unfamiliar with) stitches together programmed beats, shoegazey textures and Noel’s semi-poetic musings to agreeable affect, although Blue Amber are more of an EP or even album band than a single track one.
The latest – fifth – release in the MIDI-Drum Compositions series by Cardiff-based Dtub, aka Jaxson Payne, has a May release date on the Bandcamp link, but you can definitely listen to it now, because I’m doing so. Previous cassettes under this name have found Payne banging out grime and rave rhythms, among others, on his electronic drumkit; this time the main source of the beats are 80 and 90s thrash metal records. Fifteen tracks of lethal cutup wildness results, closer to Bomb Squad-type hip-hop production than past, ravier Dtub tapes, with a measure of mid-00s breakcore bosh to boot.
I’ve tried and failed to find out who Horrid Hill are, initially off the back of their 2020 album Mari Lwyd: a collection of deeply weird/gloomy dungeon synth-type pieces inspired by Welsh folklore as per the title, and released on microcassette. Continuing the inscrutability, …On The Edge Of The Estuary (Lavender Sweep) can be purchased as a floppy disk (again, all this is available as MP3s) and purports to be inspired by the sounds of the muddy flats of the Gower’s Loughor estuary. The two relatively short pieces are somewhere between dark ambient and early industrial, exceedingly bleak but whirring with the menacing beauty of someone like Andrew Chalk.
Chris Walker, another Cardiff resident, I mainly know as a member of Railroad Bill, a longrunning skiffle revival band filtered through punk. That was until his debut release as Masonic Kitchen, a four-song 7” on London label Polytechnic Youth. In line with the approx ethos of that label, The Stahlex Project offers groovy retro electronic pleasure, on a Patrick Cowley type disco tip for Aphrodollie and crunchier to a proto-industrial degree on T-City Scavenger. Very much recommended!
Cardiff synthpop soloist Mogan brought out a tape, Gut, a few weeks ago, featuring remixes of Gutter, a tape from last April. I am finding out about both of them right now, and feel quite the chump – guess I must have been very busy 11 months ago. Anyway, this is a treat of electronic eclecticism with a few names I know and a few I don’t – although Bristol’s Sarahsson were in the latter category and their take on Mogan’s State is a headwreck, in a good way. Transmissive is tackled twice, by London’s Days Fade, Nights Grow (possibly their first remix?) and consistently impressive Welsh duo Larch.
My Name Is Ian [above] have been releasing music for about a decade now, and it’s a handful to sift through but their forthcoming album, due in June, is probably their third ‘proper’ one whatever that means. The Bubblewrap label have released a teaser track, For Love, from it, and I like the rubbery twang of the main riff very much, on an Ian Dury/Talking Heads/Afrofunk vibe as it is. Ultimately, the song is still an indie-dance crooner at heart, but this is definitely the coolest thing I can recall hearing by this band.
Mrs Windsor’s Island, the third album released by the Cardiff-based Outside Broadcast in little more than seven months, is billed as a soundtrack to a novel of the same name, written by band member Stephen J Carr. It comprises 21 tracks, mostly around the two- or three-minute mark, which relative to last album Earth Calling dispense with most rock tropes in favour of lower-key, almost library music-like keyboard expressions – although my highlight, Nothing More Sociable Than A Crawfish Broil, is a slightly longer slice of audacious yacht prog.
The debut EP by Pierce Joyce, a young Irish musician studying at Cardiff’s Royal Welsh College Of Music & Drama, aims to offer a window into the world of a student both locked down and bitten by the love bug. Joyce did get to use the RWCMD itself, likewise the services of various string and woodwind players, to record In Love And Isolation, so it could be worse. The resultant four songs, with Joyce on piano and vocals, are elegant, baroque folk numbers mutter-sung in a vaguely tipsy meter, in the spirit of Leonard Cohen or the Tindersticks.
I gave Shreddies a brief namecheck in the February edition of this column, the project featuring on a compilation released by Electric Soup, and now here is Fidofridafaunaflora (Rose Parade), Josh Dickins’ debut cassette under this name. It’s very early 90s-sounding ambient house gear with lots of clappy hi-hats and squealy synth parts evocative of a dangerous tropical forest. The melody on Flora, the closing track, also sounds quite a lot like Everybody Hurts by REM, although I don’t expect that was intentional. As well as a regular cassette, itself fairly limited, exactly five copies of this EP are packaged in a metal container which some might think of as a ‘stash tin’.
Cwmwl Tystion / Witness edits two live sets from 2019 into a CD-length album, released by Wales Millennium Centre’s in-house label Tŷ Cerdd. I’m not actually certain how it’s best credited, in that only the title appears on the artwork, but the main composer is Tomos Williams, a seasoned trumpeter with Burum and Khamira among others. His ensemble here are a varied set, including indubitably ‘out’ harpist Rhodri Davies and the more sedate pianist Huw Warren, and it’s inspired by broad notions of Welsh history and culture, with track titles referencing Paul Robeson’s Eisteddfod appearance and the flooding of Tryweryn among other things. It’s a commendably rich and fluid listen, the folk influences of some – perhaps all – members shining through, and moments of tasty interplay such as that between Williams and drummer Mark O’Connor on Pa Beth Yw Cenedl.
Early Dreamer by Twin Stranger [above] is the third Rose Parade release of this column, and an unsettlingly authentic 221 seconds of buzzbin-tastic American college rock, except from south Wales and not from a college. Thuddy bass intro, slackly stoned vocal drawl, powerpop melodies, it’s got the lot if you want something that sounds like the Lemonheads or the Gigolo Aunts or whoever. There seems to be some wilful ambiguity about whether Twin Stranger is a functioning band, or the solo project of Alex McConnachie with extra musicians enlisted as and when, though for now I think the latter.
I’d seen the name Zero Gravity Tea Ceremony about a bit, in the clattery experimental circles that sometimes get called the “no-audience underground”, but didn’t actually realise that the fella behind it, Charlie Miles, lived in Cardiff. I suppose it’s largely academic at this precise moment, the justification for filing things under “Welsh music” already and often rake-thin, but Introduction To Phase 5, a now sold-out tape on the Base Materialism microlabel, is a home recording and very up my street. Scrawly guitar improv meets with sampled drums and tape fuzz; parts remind me of Jandek, others of Still House Plants, others something Kye Records would put out.
This month concludes with a digital compilation of technoid localism from the Cardiff Electronic Producers Network. PRODUCT_002_COMMUNITY’s 24 contributors include Masonic Kitchen as reviewed up there; FFRWD who is one of the remixers on Mogan’s EP; and Via Fantastica, Dead Method and Stereoripe, who I’ve featured in previous columns. Ladysmith Black Rebel Mambazo Club and Pope John Paul Van Damme, despite their jestery names (from the same mind? I can’t say for sure), offer two distinct and fine flavours of braindance, with the footwork-influenced Tetrahex and Berlin School-y The Guilty Spark among other highlights for this listener.
words NOEL GARDNER