Former Pipettes frontwoman Gwenno Saunders has struck out in her own direction, and it’s safe to say that the new road she’s chosen isn’t likely to be gridlocked. Concept album ‘Y Dyadd Olaf’ – inspired by and named after the 1976 sci-fi novel by Owain Owain in which invading robots turn humans into clones – was released last year on indie label Peski, and has just been reissued by Heavenly. Sung almost entirely in Welsh, with one song delivered in Cornish, only around one million Brits are likely to be able to understand the lyrics, but that shouldn’t matter; after all, isn’t the human voice the finest instrument, whatever language it uses?
An identifiable theme throughout the record is, fittingly, the competition between human and machine, which is put onto wax from the off on ‘Chwyldro’, where a rock-solid bass foundation provides the stability for vocals to interweave with synths and FX – it eventually comes down heavily on one side with a psych-kraut meander.
Elsewhere, Gwenno’s vocals win out. ‘Calon Peiriant’ is powered by a walking bass on a mushroom trip, and, while there is a nod to blissed-out psychadelia, it is marshalled by the same delicate vocals which populate the sonic landscape on ‘Sisial Y Môr’. The title track is as close to genuine warmth as we get, with Gwenno sounding tender as her words bob along on an ocean of warm synths, which move with a current but don’t suck you under.‘Stwff’, on the other hand, sounds like it came straight out of a toybox. Man or machine, this is a stinker, and exhibits the lack of substance which becomes gradually more noticeable the longer you listen, and the less you care about how the sounds were made.
|PHOTO - Jacek Davis Photography|
But the record is best when this debate is shelved in favour of good songs, of which there are a handful. ‘Patriarchaeth’ squelches along at pace with vocals, like an extra pad, giving the track an elevating dimension which is subtle enough not to be overpowering. ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’ is energetic and elegant all at once, Gwenno’s voice spanning octaves on a track titled not in Welsh but in the nonsense words of a character from Owain’s novel; this is a real high point on the record, presenting all that’s good about it in one tidy package.
The jangling guitar which opens ‘Golau Arall’ sounds like the most traditional element on the record, but I’m no expert – maybe Welsh music has always been Moog-heavy? This track marks Gwenno hitting her stride again, propulsive bass hooks carrying the listener along as her voice sweeps over a continuation of the mood of previous track ‘Dawns Y Blaned Dirion,’ 92 seconds of hollow, resonant fragility which are over before they begin.
Closing track ‘Amser’ is sung in Cornish, and is it our imagination or does the musicality sound different too? Gwenno sounds coyer, the backing a little more experimental and the overall effect is a welcome development of a sound starting to get a little stale. However, it comes too late to fully salvage an album which bows under the weight of what it’s trying to achieve. There’s not quite enough here to captivate the listener and keep them locked in to what is by definition a more challenging record than usual, and it seems that Gwenno is staring so intently at her crossfader that she hasn’t noticed people politely leaving through the fire escape.
Words - Joe Ponting
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