There are not many who could reasonably get away with recording an album in another language and still portray such beauty and be so appealing to so many.
Le Kov (The Place of Memory) is the second solo album by Welsh singer-songwriter and musician, Gwenno Saunders, created in collobartion with producer Rhys Edwards with additional drum engineering by Gorwel Owen (Super Furry Animals) and mixing and additional programming by David Wrench. The LP is set for release on Friday on Heavenly Recordings.
Y Dydd Olaf (The Final Day) was Gwenno’s debut album, concept based on Welsh writer Owain Owain’s 1976 sci-fi novel of the same name in which robots take over the human race; barring a single Welsh speaker who hadn’t relinquished his identity. Originally released on Welsh label Peski and reissued by Heavenly Recordings in 2015, it won that year’s Welsh Music Prize and Best Welsh Album at the National Eisteddfod. Nine of its ten songs were in Welsh; the last, Amser (Time) was in Cornish which was in fact one of Gwenno’s fathers poems set to music.
Recorded entirely in Cornish, a lanuguage that less than a thousand people speak fluently, Gwenno explains that she “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. 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.”
Opener ‘Hi a Skoellyas Liv a Dhagrow’ is inspired by the title of Aphex Twin’s ‘Druqks’. The painfully beautiful piece sends shivers down the spine as its haunting vocal harmonies are juxtaposed against a string and brass background. ‘Tir Ha Mor’ offers a darkness twinged with sorrow, the eerie piano riff resonating even when it is not being played. The song is a tribute to Peter Lanyon, a St. Ives school painter who learned to fly a glider plane in order to understand the landscape better, he died after crashing his aircraft in August 1964. ‘Herdhya’ references the city of Le Kov in reference to the isolation of being on an island in such uncertain political times, it features a heavier electronic basis than the previous tracks. ‘Eus Keus?’ is Gwenno’s favourite track on the album which translates to ‘Is there Cheese?’, coming from one of the oldest suriving Cornish phrases. The chants within are a celebration and the tracks playful contenance will be certain to go down well live.
‘Jynn-amontya’ can be seen as a love letter to technology, acknowledging its role in the development of the Cornish language. Gwenno swoons over the vocals, creating an almost lustful feel which plays erotically with the synth riff. ‘Den Heb Taves’ has an almost improvised jazz theme running at its core whilst ‘Daromres y’n Howl’ is a tribute to busy roads in the summertime. It features Gruff Rhys rapping amidst dissonant brass, evoking the image of impatient car horns of tourists flocking to the picturesque towns. ‘Aremorika’ returns to the haunting sound which is interlaced throughout Le Kov with a throbbing bass undertone and shimmering guitar riff. ‘Hunros’ is a minamilist piece and sets the tone before concluding ‘Koweth Ker’ with its atonal brass interludes, emphasised piano melody and distant vocals see out the LP.
Le Kov is an exploration of the individual and collective subconcious with themes drawn from dream state, the myths and folklore of Cornwall and the history of the survival of the lesser known Brythonic language. There are not many who could reasonably get away with recording an album in another language and still portray such beauty and be so appealing to so many.