Welsh artist Gwenno Saunders sure likes big ideas. The Cardiff-based musician’s debut solo album Y Dydd Olaf (“The Final Day”) was a record themed around the 1970s Welsh language sci-fi novel of the same name by Owain Owain, and sung almost entirely in her native tongue. Her new long player Le Kov, by contrast, finds her waxing lyrical about the myths and legends of Cornwall and the role of women in the English county’s rich history. Le Kov is sung in the little-spoken Cornish language—in which Gwenno is fluent, too. To the uninitiated, these ideas might seem obscure or unapproachable. Yet, Gwenno’s records sparkle with sonic innovations and strange, captivating melodies, which make understanding the words unnecessary.
A former member of the indie-pop band The Pipettes, whose sound nodded to 1960s Phil Spector-produced “girl groups," Gwenno’s solo material instead tends towards the electronic, and psychedelic rock. On 2014’s “Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki," she funnelled gothic 1980s post-punk and spooky electronics into an addictive and danceable 4/4 pulse. “Dawns Y Blaned Dirion” from Y Dydd Olaf was the glorious meeting point of Boards of Canada or Plone ambient synths and Stereolab-indebted organic bass. Le Kov (which translates as ‘The place of memory’) amplifies the psychotropic elements of its predecessor, drawing on 1960s electronic pioneers such as The United States of America and Delia Derbyshire’s band The White Noise to further develop Gwenno’s own hypnotic sound.
“Hy a Skoellyas Lyf a Dhagrow” begins the record in a spectral fashion, materializing in green mists of synth before solidifying into a gorgeously bittersweet song of soaring string riffs, piano, and a vocal from Gwenno that alternates between whispered words and medieval mysticism. Also the name of a track from Cornish electronic maverick Aphex Twin’s album Drukqs, it translates as “she shed a flood of tears”—and the song’s emotion is starkly apparent whether you understand the lyrics or not.
Singing in Cornish is no cynical angle for Gwenno, but an honest expression of her upbringing and her sense of connection to, and yet distance from, Cornwall. “I was raised entirely in Cornish and Welsh, they were the only languages that we conversed in at home and so I’ve always viewed them both equally,” she has said. “When the time came to start thinking about recording again after touring my last album, Y Dydd Olaf, it just felt like the most natural and obvious thing to do.” The language sounds like a natural accompaniment on “Herdhya” (or ‘pushing’), where Gwenno’s Welsh accent is apparent, but the words are unfamiliar, weaving through a field of reversed guitar and shoegazing synth, reminiscent of a gentler My Bloody Valentine or something from Nathan Fake’s Drowning in a Sea of Love.
With her collaborators on the record, regular producer Rhys Edwards, drum engineer Gorwel Owen and mixer David Wrench, Gwenno invokes a vivid, mysterious and endlessly compelling world of sound. “Jynn-amontya” is a gorgeous piece of exquisitely produced and stately psyche rock. Somewhere between the work of Broadcast, Jane Weaver or BadBadNotGood, it seems designed for hazy warm evenings in the last light of the sun. “Daromres y’n Howl” is a motorik chug of brain-teasing hypnotic details and trippy electronic touches, with Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys contributing guest vocals, and “Hunros” is a swirl of ’60s melancholia with distorted, subtly wonky keys. That Le Kov is so loaded with meaning and significance adds to its appeal, but ultimately it’s the emotion and sound of the songs that make it such a wonderful and unusual record.
01. Hi a Skoellyas Liv a Dhagrow
02. Tir Ha Mor
04. Eus Keus?
06. Den Heb Taves
07. Daromres y'n Howl
10. Koweth Ker
Le Kov will be released on March 2 via Heavenly Recordings.