Gwenno’s cool playfulness, Pridjevi’s sonic incense cloud
Y Dydd Olaf
This writer was surprised to learn that singer Gwenno—best known as the lead vocalist of the polka-dot-wearing ’60s-girl-group-inspired The Pipettes—actually started a solo musical career in 2002 with electro-pop material sung in Welsh and the obscure language Cornish.
In 2014, she released her debut solo full-length album Y Dydd Olaf on Peski Records, which has recently been re-released by Heavenly Recordings, and it offers more pleasant surprises, the first being a concept album based on Welsh author Owain Owain’s dystopian science fiction novel of the same name (translated as “The Final Day”), and the second being that it’s actually pretty darn good.
Here, Gwenno sings with a soft yet perky, somewhat whispery voice, offering a few subtle inflections to entice, going beyond any detached, blasé method. The synthetic sounds bring to mind a wide range of nostalgia, from ’80s new wave to early analog synth pioneers from the mid-20th-century, and although Y Dydd Olaf does not exactly sound like Stereolab or Broadcast, it may appeal to fans of those aesthetics. Possibly a closer point of comparison would be synth-dance-pop artist Annie (from Norway) mixed with the Krautrock and crate-digging angles of Caribou.
The opener “Chwyldro” wastes no time in painting a vivid picture of Gwenno’s new sonic clothing, conveying sophistication and cool playfulness, with a backbone supplied with a motorik beat and smooth, minimal bass line; a piano’s pulse echoes amid frolicking electronic sparklers and ambient background tones.
The interlude “Dawns Y Blaned Dirion” uses a murky hand-muted bass and fog of mystery to evoke perhaps some unused early ’70s library music. The weird cuteness of “Stwff” has quirky details and a compelling tug that promises further oddities; it strangely brings to mind David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” on an alien planet.
This writer never knew he needed a Welsh electro-pop sci-fi concept album in his life until Y Dydd Olaf came along.
(Trouble In Mind)
No corner of the world seems to be untouched by the hazy charms of psychedelic rock, from Nigeria to Finland to Cambodia, and now at hand is an example from Croatia, in the form of the debut self-titled album by the sextet Pridjevi.
With the two lead vocalists Ivana Picek and Nina Romi singing exclusively in Croatian, plus a guitar/bass/keyboard/drums combo, Pridjevi takes a basic structure and aurally dances around it, like the equivalent of the closed-eyes, sway-and-move-arms hippie gait seen at outdoor concerts. It has a penchant for applying a liberal reverb fog like a zealous smoke-machine operator, and while the group largely stays in one key, the electric guitarist has a predilection for modal noodling.
The album was originally self-released last year as a digital download before Trouble In Mind recently gave it a proper physical release on vinyl and CD, and it takes a few tracks before it finds its way, with the ambling number “Pjesma O Drvecu,” which could be a distantly relative of Mazzy Star’s track “She Hangs Brightly.” “Svijet Na Dlanu” features a funk-pop rhythm and artificial flutey goodness, while “Ubila Sam Cvijet” conjures an urgent locomotive vibe and crunchy texture with a constant snare drum tapping; the blurry jazz of “Lucifer I Ja” brings to mind certain Krzysztof Komeda soundtracks.
Each song is around three or four minutes long, and unfortunately, in several cases that’s actually not enough time to unfurl and stretch their arms out, to bring the listener fully into the immersive zone-out state; although the song endings aren’t violently abrupt, it’s jarring to switch gears after one has acclimated to each dreamy soundpool.
While this writer is usually all for pop-music conciseness, this music might benefit from more time to wander. Despite this, its exotic touches and blissful, sonic incense cloud cast spells of temporary relief from reality.