It’s always tricky to review an album where the lyrics are primarily in an unknown language, especially in Gwenno’s Welsh mother tongue. Yet with ex-Pipette’s solo debut, Y Dydd Olaf, the music really speaks for itself. Branded as a concept album focusing on politics and science fiction, the album seems to shy away from its serious subject matter with light keys and an often upbeat tone. Even so, there’s something unearthly about Gwenno’s vocal delivery.
Take opener ‘Chwyldro’, a pulsating number where Gwenno’s vocals are layered with reverberation and mixed with electronic elements, especially near the end of the song. It’s something heavenly and alien that adds an ethereal touch to an otherwise grounded song. ‘Patriarchaeth’ and the title track exhibit some wonderful use of harmonies, with Gwenno once again making stellar use of her vocal chords to draw the listener in as well as creating an atmosphere that mystifies and intrigues.
Of course, alongside these exciting vocals comes equally complementary music. For the majority of Y Dydd Olaf there is an enjoyable trio of drums, bass and synthesizers that accompany Gwenno’s vocals. These drift between synth pop beats and chords and the darker realms of psychedelic and experimental pop and rock music. The result is a mixed barrel of dreamy yet foreboding tracks that are interesting to listen to, to say the very least.
But Gwenno isn’t afraid to deviate from an electronic agenda. ‘Golau Arall’ takes a simpler approach, bordering closer to indie rock than synth pop, with a melodic guitar sweeping underneath a lo-fi drum and bass beat. The song fades into ‘Stwff’, as snippets of war songs and children’s toys echo over a backdrop of guitar feedback and electronic percussion. The song then switches to a soft click and bass hook combined with manipulated vocal loops. It’s an incredibly interesting and exciting song to listen to.
For a debut solo album, Gwenno’s Y Dydd Olaf is an eclectic mix of wonderfully diverse vocal melodies and varied synth and indie pop sounds. It may be a common comparison, but the likes of Bjork spring to mind, especially selections from her Debut and Post era. More contemporary comparisons come from the likes of Jackson Scott, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Fever Ray, whose influence seems evident on Y Dydd Olaf.
Of course this album may not be for everyone. Those who are prefer their music fast paced and energetic should stay away; Gwenno’s music moves away from the high voltage rock scene and more into a paced level. Those who found Vulnicura a challenge may find Y Dydd Olaf more accessible however, but those who aren’t familiar with electronic music won’t have their minds changed either. For everyone else though, this album is a sweeping landscape of soft electronics couples with a mesmerising voice that captures the listener’s imagination and perhaps one of the best debuts of the year so far.