Welsh producer and bassist Huw Marc Bennett is one of those orbital artists who washes up on your essential listening zones with a tidal regularity. A global beats innovator and world music synergist, his inspired 2016 album ‘Kiera’ under the guise of Susso emerged from his trip through Gambia making music with Mandinka griot families. Then in 2020 ‘Tresilian Bay’ saw Bennett brewing a steamy fusion of Total Refreshment Centre London jazz, lo-fi funk and slinky afrobeats on a release rightly revered across the air waves. Here, simmering just below the nyege nyege meets nu-jazz sustenance you could catch that hint of quirky Super Furries psychedelia.
Now Bennett’s third long form offering ‘Days Like Now’, available through the illustrious Albert’s Favourites sees those musical connections with his homeland give this new release its distinct character. Stepping back to move forward, as Bennett has described the album, may sound like a contradiction but as his new music unwinds it makes perfect sense. ‘Days Like Now’ gently asserts itself as possibly his best work to date.
Golau Hardd rustles attention immediately as it breezes into play. Ngoni-toned guitar starters, a sultry rhumba/cumbia shuffle topped with a surfin’ twang and mellow synth hook, it’s an unhurried ease into the ‘Days Like Now’ vibe. Bennett’s love and affection for a tune is central to the songs of contentment and calm that he has crafted on this release. It was there in parts of his previous ‘Tresillian Bay’ but on ‘Days Like Now’ it’s carefully fore-fronted. The loose, lo-fi funkiness of Pinc Sunset celebrates the good things all around with a sparkling vocal hook that hints of sixties pop and Gorky’s quirky sense of wonder. Then there’s LoLo which glows with consideration, Bennett’s welcoming strum and ringing electric lead lines sketching one of those hazy summer soundscapes. A tune with an effortless, almost raga roll, it goes beyond new age ambience to have a more direct emotional impact. If you have ever heard Darren Hayman’s quietly moving ‘Lido’ or ‘Thankful Villages’ instrumental pieces, then think of LoLo in the same league.
Bennett weaves the pastoral spaciness even tighter with his traditional roots on the floating mistiness of Y Cariad Cyntaf, a broad acoustic re-imagining of the staple Welsh ballad first recorded by academic and song collector Meredydd Evans way back in 1954. The ghost of that song’s melody drifts in the distance of this delicate acoustic exploration, kept authentic by the clear plucked guitar patterns and Bennett’s sighs of concentration that are essential to the mix. You wonder where the song may be leading but as it curls unspoiled over the horizon the resolution is perfect.
In many ways this undiluted exploration of the quiet possibilities of his musical heritage is a bold one particularly for a musician previously best known for his rhythmic chemistry. However in unfolding the story of ‘Days Like Now’, a reflection on those visits back to Wales from his London base of today, such influences were inevitable and necessary. That doesn’t mean that the album is weighed down with sombre homesickness. It’s not a record about then it’s drawn from the now, the connection between the “bigger world” that he lives in and his small-town upbringing. So yes, uptempo funkiness and worldly groove is as much a part of the narrative stratosphere here.
Ffarwell i Llangyfelach Lon captures this confluence in action. An elegant harp stroked acoustic introduction with slight Morricone indications spins into a schmoozing Library soundtrack on an end of the pier flamenco twirl. Never overplayed, the strip back to Dammer’s/Ghost Town organ skanks and burbling dub basslines gives the tune an eerie personality. Another re-impression of a traditional song, Y Gwydd, finds Bennett fusing the Celtic song with afro-cuban salsa and making it sound like it was always meant to happen. Impressively he keeps the original melody line as the spine of a track that hovers in on a ripple of electronica before quickstepping through a brisk marimba hustle.
For a dramatic conclusion Red Valley cuts the cloth. Inspired by the Welsh volunteers who left their homes to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War it revolves with the imagination of Tunng at their most epic. Sort of folk -rock abstraction meets Khruangbin groove, ethio jazz flourish meets filmic set pieces (the crunch of marching feet), it’s graphic and great in a way that requires no further explanation. Talking about the foundations of ‘Days Like Now’ Bennett has admitted “I may not understand everything but this is mine to use and be proud of”. Maybe that’s the key reason why this gently unassuming release builds up momentum and has such an impact. On ‘Days Like Now’ Huw Marc Bennett is opening up and showing us more of himself. It’s an album with its own personality and you just have to take notice.
Get a copy of ‘Days Like Now’ by Huw Marc Bennett from your local record store or direct from Albert’s Favourites HERE