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A review of...
Y Dydd Olaf by Gwenno
Sublime, lo-fi electro-pop from Cardiff's best kept secret
Gwenno is probably an unknown to most of us (unless you're familiar with retro-indie outfit The Pipettes, of whom she was a member for more than ten years), and that's one of the reasons why this album is one of those rare things that come out of nowhere and make you a bit giddy with excitement. Even as a jaded 35 year old, it's nice to know that you can still be taken by surprise. It's like finding a mint condition Tom Waits LP in a charity shop, or finding the most expensive steak in an M&S dine in for 2 deal. I'm not even exaggerating...it really is that good.
Anyway, Y Dydd Olaf was produced by Rhys Edwards (owner of Peski Records who originally put out this album, before it was given a wider release by Heavenly) and is apparently a political concept album inspired by a Welsh sci-fi novel. So far so good. It's also sung entirely in Welsh, which I have a certain soft spot for, ever since my adolescent SFA/Gorkys fascination (I also grew up in a West Yorkshire town called Pontefract which sounds a bit like that Welsh place, so it must be kismet). The only thing I know for sure about the lyrical themes is that the album's title translates to "The Last Day", so it's probably not gonna be a walk in the park if you can understand it (Gwenno has since posted a link to the full English translation, which you can peruse here). But the fascinating thing about this record is, that after about 3 songs you don't even notice that it's being sung in another language, the vocals become an ethereal instrument, angelic and alien, complementing the music which does most of the sorry-telling by itself.
At times the sound of this album is stark and minimal, but at others there's a uplifting, anthemic and almost classical element there which lifts the songs well beyond their low-budget origins. Take "Sisial Y Môr" which combines rock beats with electronics and moprhs into a finale that sounds like a synthetic choir. If you enjoyed Air's Virgin Suicides then you might just find something here that suits your taste here. Although this is an electro-pop album on the surface, one of the things that sets it aside from others in the genre is the fact that it sounds so organic. You can hear to blemishes in the drum beats and the fingers on the bass strings, all things which can only add to the album's likeability. As for Gwenno's vocals, just think part Julie Cruz, part Human League, part alien and you'll be in the general ball park. A stunning debut.
"Calon Peiriant" - a track that sounds almost dubby in its verse and guitar solo, but all this just paves the way to an uplifting melodious chorus and a Beatles-esque breakdown.