In the interests of this blog being a place where I can write about anything…
It’s the most wonderful* time of the Welsh musical year, when Rhys Mwyn compiles the annual Siart Amgen – essentially, a Welsh Festive Fifty.
*The nominations are already causing a controversy on Welsh twitter…
Tempting as it is to take a chunk of time out of my studies to wax lyrical about what we even mean by ‘alternative’ – especially in the context of a minority language – I’m going to leave you with my top 10:
10. Calan – Kân
Hits a sweet spot between ‘Welsh guilt’ and ‘catchy folk’ that I never knew existed. Calan seem to have absorbed the message in the blistering verses of Harri Webb and Gerallt Lloyd Owen that the language is dying from our apathy, and thought: why not set it to a toe-tapping chorus with a sweary section in English to drive the point home?
9. Anelog – Y Môr
A summer shower of a song; nothing groundbreaking, but a light drenching in some gorgeous sound.
Anelog always manage to make me feel homesick.
8. Llygod Ffyrnig – N.C.B.
AKA my dad’s band, for a little while, before I arrived and ruined
everything. Played by John Peel back in the day and still raising
eyebrows, apparently. It made no. 3 in siart amgen 2016.
7. Mr Phormula – Be Ti’n Gweld?
Welsh hip hop deserves a mention here. Tempted as I am to nominate MC Mabon’s Myddyffycys Yn Bob Man (play it out loud, Anglophones), or the Tystion classic Gwyddbwyll (check out the live version with John Cale), Mr Phormula arrived in time to to drag us all into the 2010s – a decade in which the MOBO awards nearly featured a Welsh language rap performance.
6. Gruff Rhys – Rhagluniaeth Ysgafn
I could not find a video for this one anywhere. You’ll have to come round mine and hear it on the hi-fi (how lo-fi).
Lying in bed one morning, in Spain, I heard this on the radio and thought I was hallucinating. Welsh music on the Spanish radio? But in a strange way it made sense – if it isn’t in Spanish, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be in Welsh. Later that day I wandered over to the record shop in town and bought a copy. I love the loose, playful sound of this album, his first post-SFA, before he found his niche and polished it.
5. The Gentle Good – Llosgi Pontydd
A slow-burning ode to the bittersweetness of moving on. The recorded version has gorgeous harmonies from Cate Le Bon, adding rich emotional reasonance to a song which is every bit as Gentle and Good as Gareth Bonello’s stage name.
Alternative? Possibly. Beautiful? Definitely.
4. Ani Glass – Y Ddawns
The other Saunders sister / ex-Pippette making addictive electronica in Cardiff. This song is the essence of every brilliant, dingy club you’ve ever danced in before it got shut down for being illegal.
3. 9Bach – Brain
How alternative is alternative? My father-in-law recommended 9Bach to me, which automatically makes them TOO POPULAR TO BE ALTERNATIVE (I’m not used to people even knowing the names of most bands I like; but to be fair, neither is he). And yet… with Lisa Jên’s soprano soaring over dub basslines, spiked with sparse guitar and a sparkling of harp, 9Bach have found a rich and distictive sound which is utterly addictive.
Brain is my favourite from their new album, a song written from the perspective of a crow (‘brân’, plural ‘brain’) with stunning use of rhythm and rhyme to evoke the corvid mimicking of human speech.
2. Gwenno – Chwyldro
Gwenno Saunders is a game changer. She released a Welsh/Cornish-language concept album based on an out-of-print SF novel, and the English media sat up and paid attention. The electronic soundscape and kaleidoscopic visuals here feel like a distillation of what was happening around her in Cardiff (Trwbador were heading in a similar direction before they disbanded) – the richness and self-confidence of the concept make this album pure vodka to the ferment of its peers. And while I don’t like vodka, I fucking love this song.
1. Datblygu – Y Teimlad
As Ani Glass said, “they are the kings.”