It’s all too easy to bracket Welsh language music together and stick it on the shelf marked “oddball”. Gorky’s, Super Furries, latterly Cate Le Bon and Gwenno – they’ve all laboured under adjectives like “cosmic”, “psychedelic”, “weird”, … “kooky” if they’re really unlucky… and suffered commercially because of the language barrier.
And, no, the lazy journalism isn’t entirely about to end here. There is definitely something in the water that side of Offa’s Dyke that seems to flavour the music, taking the melodies to mistier, fuzzier places, almost as if use of an ancient language taps you into a less workaday world.
Adwaith are Gwenllian Anthony, Hollie Singer and Heledd Owen, a trio from Carmarthen. Early publicity pitched them as a Welsh Slits, a misplaced comparison done purely as an attention-grabber. They may share the same feminist anger – one presumes Lipstick Coch (tr: Red Lipstick) is not about looking nice for your boyfriend – but they’re way mellower and genre-fluid.
It’s quite hard to pin one sound on them, and nothing is straightforward. The aforementioned Lipstick Coch surfs along on perky plucked guitar and skipping rhythms before crashing into some groovy 60s riffage. O Dan y Haenau goes for Talk Talk dreaminess. Diafol a Fi is Clannad turned prog. Y Diweddaraf marries Banshees menace to a Kinks-y guitar lick. If there’s a sonic signature, aside from Singer’s vocals, it’s a prickliness about the production and a mid-song rhythmic shift.
Some of the most interesting bits didn’t make it into full songs. Intro is a fragment of an icy arena rock tune cut short when it’s begging to let rip. Yn Fy Mhen is a snippet of saloon bar jazz heard from the bottom of a frozen pond. The closing minute-long Tair sounds like the middle eight of a demo you want to hear the rest of. They’re not short of ideas here, leaving you to wonder whether they should have made this debut a tight ten-songer, and held some in reserve for the difficult second.
After all, they don’t really need to chuck everything at the wall and see what sticks. When it all comes together, the quality is definitely there. The Egyptian reggae of Colli Golwg is particularly persistent in the brain and Fel i Fod is beautifully floaty. Lipstick Coch must also be mentioned in that company.
But oh to understand Welsh! The lyrics, we’re told, are full of the darkness and uncertainty of youth-become-adulthood, though you’d not necessarily assume that from the music. And occasional blasts of English tantalise. In the middle of Newid (tr: Change), there’s a snippet that sounds an awful lot like “Maggie Thatcher” but might just be a similar sounding Welsh phrase. Some sort of musical political statement? Almost certainly. As ever with the disproportionately successful Welsh music scene, the fate of us non-speakers is to marvel at the music and wonder at words we can’t understand.