BEST OF 2013: 1. Georgia Ruth – Week Of Pines

Growing up in South Wales with an interest in music meant that two particular attachments were formed that remain hugely important to me to this day. Firstly, there is the one utterly dependable source of exciting new acts who also manages to fill in the gaps from the past with utterly infectious enthusing: BBC Radio Wales’ new music show hosted by the inimitable Adam Walton. It became appointment listening for me when he was given a slot on weeknights in the late nineties, playing the noisy stuff before a new pop show that followed. I still have piles of CDs here that I won from the show and he is responsible for my love of the Super Furries, 60ft Dolls, Murry The Hump and Gorky’s, as well as some non-Welsh magic he also used to sneak in like The Beta Band and Doves. He was, and when time permits still is, my Peel. Adam, like Gideon Coe on 6 Music, is one of those presenters who could sell you most of the records he plays. Rare is the time I listen to one of his broadcasts without writing down at least one artist I need to investigate. He continues to fight the good fight on Saturday nights and, as music lovers yourselves, I would forcefully urge you to put aside three hours of each week to find out what has caught his attention recently.

The second totem in my grasp on music is Cardiff’s Spillers Records. I’ve written about them many times before, but they are the outlet for so much of the truly brilliant music being made in Wales. They listen to it all and match it to the people likely to love it. They make scarily accurate recommendations and send you off with a new favourite album you didn’t even go in there to buy. Several years ago, they brought Huw M into my world, for which I am eternally grateful, as well as keeping me fixed with records by The Gentle Good, Little Arrow, Meilir, H Hawkline, Sweet Baboo, Islet and many, many more. They are facilitators, curators and participants in a phenomenal music scene and they also play their part in Georgia Ruth’s stunning ‘Week Of Pines’ being my favourite album of 2013.

Adam has played her music for years, going right back to early recordings when she still used her surname Williams on releases. He would talk of this remarkable voice whose music was crafted on a harp and then play these beautifully sung, delicately balanced tracks. Her name remained on my radar and several digitally released EPs crept into my collection. However, the moment where I realised just why she was such a regular presence on his programmes was the first time I heard ‘Bones’, a beguilingly soulful paean to life working on the London Underground, replete with the sound of distant trains. It was to be housed on four track 10″ EP, ‘In Luna’, with which Spillers promptly furnished me. It remains one of my all time favourite songs and it’s not even on this remarkable album. Her Saturday afternoon set at Green Man in 2012, where ‘Bones’ was thankfully added to the setlist as an afterthought, was always going to be a must see, but it served to underline just what a tremendous talent was at play.

‘Week Of Pines’ entered the world in May and managed to traverse the full range of what various incarnations of Georgia Ruth’s music have covered to date. The title track’s motorik drums which rise from the silence, only to be partnered with a resonant harp, set the tone for a record which never sits still. Having spent time in Brighton as well as London, Williams felt the call of home and returned to Wales, pouring some of that aching nostalgia into this set of songs. This near six minute opener is unquestionably unique, marrying vague Krautrock with melodically rich playing of the harp in a manner that isn’t exactly en vogue right now. Not that it isn’t something very special. The intertwined notion of building relationships and the landscapes in which they occur is rather beautifully explored, not least in the gently stirring couplet: “You have got the best heart that I have ever seen; it lingers in the cracks and finds the dim-lit space between”.

‘Dovecote’ unravels across an organ drone, barely grounded with the vocal hovering free, entirely in keeping with the lyric “set the rigging high, my love, for I will no man’s anchor be.”  The howling harmonica which opens a cover of vintage folk number ‘Old Blue’ paves the way for a lament for a departed pet which skitters along at a fair old pace. ‘Mapping’, meanwhile, seems to have laid its strummed-harp cards upon the table before fading back up for an aching reprise. This is undeniably Welsh folk music, but so much more than that implies too. That it sounds so out of step with much of what I have listened to this year has perhaps served it well. ‘Seeing You Around’ remains a favourite, with its languid nostalgia proving to be all-encompassing and indulgently wistful. The delivery of the word ‘iconoclast’ in the line “I’ve tried to melt away like some old iconoclast, but I believed in breath and clay, I believed that we were built to last,” is wonderfully Welsh and serves to reinforce the importance of her homeland to her music.

As a plastic taff, whose formative years were spent perilously close to the border, I’m sadly not a Welsh speaker but the three tracks here which especially highlight Williams’ bilingual upbringing are no less beautiful for being reliant, for me at least, upon melody alone. ‘Hallt’, especially, is a full-shiver-down-the-spine piece, which, upon the arrival of percussion around the three and a half minute mark, lifts off to a quite magical place and the final take on its chorus is as serene a piece of music as I could wish to play right now. Although, ‘In Luna’, from the afore-mentioned EP, might run it close. Williams’ vocal rises and falls en route to a glistening chorus, bedecked with shuffling, subtle drums and delicate touches of guitar. The harp is, once again, foregrounded, becoming inextricable from her voice.

Where it is briefly sidelined, as on the richly melancholic ‘A Slow Parade’, a swooning electric guitar riff brings forth memories of a lost classic: the Richard Hawley-produced solo outing by A Girl Called Eddy. It is yet another subtle stylistic shift on this tremendously bold record. By the time ‘Winter’ retreats slowly from view, mirroring the slow entrance of the title track at the other end of the album, the Snowdonian landscape in which ‘Week Of Pines’ was constructed seems to have left its mark. Of a time, perhaps, but of a place, undoubtedly, this truly special collection of songs is unlike anything else I’ve heard this year. It picked up the Welsh Music Prize in October, which prompted a brief flurry of interest, but I put it at the top of the list not only because it quite sincerely is my favourite album of the last twelve months but also in the hope that some of you reading will seek out and enjoy an overlooked treasure. To Adam, to Spillers and, most of all, Georgia, thanks for reminding that music is a wonderfully powerful thing and, in the right hands, can make you smile, sob and stand up and face the world.

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Trwbador – Exclusive New Track ‘Deffro Ar Y Llawr’

Describing themselves as Avant Pop and capable of some truly gorgeous melodies, it is with some delight that Welsh duo Trwbador launch Just Played’s attempt at streaming suitably splendid tunes in your direction. Having set up their own label, Owlet Music, the pair unveiled their debut EP last summer, ‘Sun In The Winter‘, which can still be purchased here. With some fortuitous timing, I believe the good ship Radcliffe and Maconie gave the band a play on 6Music only today, so nice to know that people are hearing their wonderful music. Chief amongst their supporters, and the man to whom I should doff my cap for the steer on this fine new tune, is Adam Walton. The squire of all things new, Welsh and musical, his genuinely delightful Radio Wales show has just been relocated to Saturday nights at 10pm (after the equally ace Bethan Elfyn) and is always worth three hours of your time.

Anyway, this delightful track, ‘Deffro Ar Y Llawr‘ has been played on Radio Wales and performed live for the lovely Huw Stephens and the good folk at Green Man. I think, and keep in mind that my Welsh is terrible, that it means ‘Wake Up On The Floor’. Don’t quote me on that. Trwbador aren’t sure exactly when this will be out there for you to buy but, for now, you can keep coming back here to listen to it. Spread the word:

Futuremusic 2010 – Day Two

FM10UAS

Five songs, that’s all I’m basing this on. And one of them is forty seconds long. So, we’ll say four, really. But what magic is contained within those four songs. Under Alien Skies are two lads, David and Danny from Prestatyn in Wales. That’s about all I know at this stage and their minimal web presence isn’t much help when trying to find out a bit more about them. Which just leaves the music on the ‘Powder’ EP for me to talk about.

FMUAS

Fans of the spaced-out, dubby wall of sound style backdrops so beloved of everyone from Animal Collective to Grizzly Bear of late, will likely take to this instantly. Opening track ‘Fyodor’ almost oozes through the speakers, so ‘big’ is its sound. Judicious application of echo makes it feel like you’re lost somewhere deep in the middle of the song itself and yet the vocal, a precisely enunciated croon, is crisp as you like atop this aural tapestry. This really wouldn’t have sounded out of place on ‘Veckatimest’, and not only that, it would have been one of the finer moments on the record. Insane hyperbole though this may seem, it really is that good.

Bloodsport’ sounds, at least in part, like Animal Collective after they’ve been introduced to the idea of verses in songs. Ludicrous degrees of repetition are avoided and, instead, the track goes through several phases, gradually slowing to cascading harmonies over a stuttering beat and little bleepy computer noises. It’s a luscious end to the song and it’s made to seem all the more dreamy and delicate by the whirling, careering, largely instrumental closing track, ‘Amine’, the danciest (yeah, I know, but a better word currently escapes me) thing on the EP.

Thoroughly nice bloke and underrated radio broadcaster of great quality, Adam Walton was the one to tip me off about this lot and he wrote an impassioned and possibly even more excited piece about this EP on his BBC Wales music blog in early January. His particular favourite track is ‘Cracks’, by far the most schizophrenic song of theirs I’ve heard. It starts off sounding like two different songs playing at once before gradually coalescing into a curiously mournful sound. Imagine the Beach Boys having to record their vocals just after watching their cat get knocked over by a passing driver and you’ll be somewhere close. Add in a twirling Spanish guitar sound and you don’t know whether to smile or cry. As the music gradually retreats, you’re left with the sounds of nature and a high-pitched loop slowly ascending to a better place. I think ‘Fyodor’ just about edges it for me, but I hear why Adam was so immediately head over heels with it. Even the forty second piece, ‘Caller ID’ is a strangely swelling piano interlude, maintaining the atmosphere and further diversifying the sound of this almost impossible to categorise EP.

I await even greater things from this lot. They’re not, as far as I’m aware, even signed up yet and their aforementioned scant internet presence makes it tricky to get a handle on exactly what we can expect from them and when. You can download the EP for free by clicking through from the picture above, where it’s available for free from Bandcamp, even in lossless if you like it that way. I cannot emphasise how enough how much I urge you to do that. It’ll be some of the most intriguing, engaging and frankly different music you’ve heard in some time.

2010 on the record

Song Of The Day 7: Nina Simone – O-o-h Child

Nope, I’ve no idea why it’s written like that either. It is, as you might imagine, sung as ‘Ooh’. It was originally recorded by a Chicago Soul group called The Five Stairsteps, but I first heard this track as covered by Nina Simone on her ‘Here Comes The Sun’ album, which is now one of my absolute favourite records. There are better Nina Simone tracks out there, I know, but something about this set of eight songs together just works perfectly for me. I remember purchasing a foreign import LP of it from the now defunct Soul Alley in Leeds while I was at uni there for the grand sum of eight quid and playing it to death that summer. It never once sounded tired, and it never has since. I’m wallowing in a head cold today and moping around the house. That’s the kind of day this record was made for. I’d recommend you spend some time listening to all eight tracks on this one here or by actually purchasing the thing here, in its lovely remastered, mini-vinyl edition from a few years back.

I’ve plumped for this track as it’s probably the most instantly lovely track on the whole album and it’s valiantly attempting to raise my furrowed brow right now. Click the lovely album artwork for ‘Here Comes The Sun’ to launch ‘O-o-h Child’ in Spotify or click here for an incorrectly labelled video on YouTube.

softd 7

(There was going to be another post today about a pretty special new Welsh band, Under Alien Skies, about whom I was informed by the excellent Radio Wales new music hound, Adam Walton. I’m in no fit state to write that, unfortunately – the above piece took three times longer than normal! – but I should point out that he’ll be playing all of their fantastic new EP on his show tonight, 10pm on Radio Wales. You can listen live here or on the iPlayer tomorrow.)

Taking all the credit

Having been banging on about physical media and the demise of the record shop only yesterday, I found myself purchasing a download-only album mere hours after publishing said blog entry. My main excuses are that a) it was only a fiver b) it isn’t available by any other means. I’m not especially fond of downloads, mainly because I rarely form an attachment with music I acquire in that manner, but on this occasion I’ll make an exception. The album I download was ‘I, Yeah!‘ by up-and-coming (get me!) Bristol band, Glow.

Regular readers may remember me droning on about the sheer majesty of Northampton’s finest, Maps, last year. The album, ‘We Can Create’, just edged ‘The Good, The Bad & The Queen’ as my album of 2007. It’s slightly squelchy, delightfully indie, intelligently-crafted electronic music. And that, my music-loving-internet-browsing chums, is also how I would describe ‘I, Yeah!‘ Seriously, it’s that good. It hasn’t been with me long enough for me to make insanely hyperbolic statements about how it’s as good as the Maps album, but I can forsee a long and beautiful relationship. It won’t be quite as beautiful as could be though, because it’s a CD-R. Still, mustn’t grumble. This appears to be a clear argument for the increasing reliance on digital releases. My guess would be that this album would have been a financial nightmare to get off the ground if it had to be pressed up and packaged as a full CD release, but as a download that you can pay for with Paypal, it’s a (relative) piece of piss.

I should just confess at this point that I shambled upon this rather wonderful album as a result of the tireless work of one Adam Walton. I’ve mentioned him before for one reason or another, but for those not up to speed he’s the host of a late-night new music show on BBC Radio Wales. I became hooked on the show in an earlier format during my later teenage years living in South Wales and I’ve kept listening from time to time ever since. A few months back he played the Glow album in its entirety. As it happens, I missed that show, but while following the time-extinguishing Google/Wiki trail of Adam Walton I happened upon a post on their site about him doing that. So, I had a listen and the rest, as they say, is history. For those counting cliches in this post, I think that’s four.

Adam’s great, by the way, and sadly not as revered as he should be. There are two remaining, essential new music shows for me these days – one is, as you may be aware by now, Gideon Coe on 6music and the other is Adam’s. He plays some truly bizarre stuff from time to time, but his show is essentially a latter-day John Peel show with the emphasis on Welsh music. Last night I heard a hip-hop group called Mudmowth – great, although the Myspace page appears to have been written by an Alan Partridge version of Westwood – a delightful female artist by the name of Georgia Ruth Williams, the folksy delights of The Toy Band and a truly brilliant indie band called Man Without Country. Click on the respective names to find out more and/or have a listen to last night’s show via the BBC iPlayer. He’s on every Sunday from 10pm.

Oh, and if you didn’t click on the link above, go and buy the Glow album here.