Played Cymru #4: The Best In New Welsh Music

Immersing our ears in Welsh wonders...

Creoso! Welcome to our monthly Welsh music roundup. If this is the first time checking out the column, it’s a rundown of the key albums and EP’s from the last month that were released by emerging bands hailing from the land of song. We’ve got a stacked bill this month. From harsh noise rock to ultra-modern rap to post-genre experiments, these releases show Welsh music at its most urgent, ambitious and vital.

Before we jump in, a few key events from last month deserve a mention. The big one was, of course, FOCUS Wales up in Wrexham. This writer attended for CLASH and had the best time. Check out the review here. Elsewhere, festival season is upon us, so last weekend we had In It Together Festival near Port Talbot and Devauden Festival in Chepstow, which both featured swathes of emerging Welsh acts on their bills. In Cardiff, The Moon hosted the three-day Cardiff Psych & Noise Fest, while on the same weekend Clwb Ifor Bach put together a stacked one day Welsh-language bill called Trwy’r Dydd. An intriguing new venue also opened; a collaboration between various arts collectives set in a huge old office space near Cardiff Bay named Caernedd. Also; Huw Stephens has a fascinating new book out, analysing 100 of the most significant albums released by Welsh artists.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into last month’s key new releases…

Shlug – ‘Split The Grin’

Wielding a fabulously caustic sound, Shlug have become a favourite of the South Wales live music circuit. The trio (sometimes four-piece) play an abrasive brand of noise rock; the kind of harsh textures and frantic tempos that Gilla Band might conjure up if they were into hardcore punk. Their exhilarating new EP ‘Split The Grin’ doubles down on their intense vision, while playing myriad shot-in-arm tricks on the listener. ‘Forever Weeps Baby Boy Blue’ flicks from sparse quiet to grinding horror, ‘Low Anchored Cloud’ crushes with hints of melody, while ‘Grated Thumbs’ unpredictable structure will spin your head as if embedded in live Shlug member Andrew Noel’s on-stage power drill. Catch them live if you can.

em koko – ‘In Nowhere’

A gem of an EP, em koko’s ‘In Nowhere’ practically glows with potent emotions and post-genre musical ambition. Produced by the brilliant Minas, whose singular production work will appear again on this list, em koko (a solo project recently filled out by an impressive live band) has come up with an absolute spellbinder here.

Blending shoegaze, electronica and industrial rock, these six tracks tilt from the intense ‘Erase’ to the serene ‘Make Believe’ to the tense ‘Disorder’ without ever blinking their sleepy eyes. This broad scope is part of what makes ‘In Nowhere’ so engrossing, as are the ethereal vocals that, on highlights ‘Take Me As I Am’ and ‘Inside Out’, ascend heartrending summits. So excited to see how this project develops.

Razkid – ‘Welsh Weather’

Another EP from one of the capital’s key emerging artists, ‘Welsh Weather’ is a white-hot collection from rapper Razkid and producer Minas. These six tracks reveal a complex, interesting character, one whose Cardiff-accented bars eschew braggadocio in favour of gritty realism and lucid introspection.

Tracks like ‘Fell Off The Wagon’ and ‘Head In The Clouds’ are brutally self-honest, while strong closer ‘Daim Bars’ looks to the future, envisaging brighter days ahead in spite of the murky Welsh weather. Minas’ work is consistently stellar, ranging from bass-heavy modern rap coldness to more subtly abstract fare, such as EP highlight ‘Raz’. It all adds up to what is comfortably one of the best rap releases to come out of Wales in some time.

SYBS – ‘Olew Nadroedd’

Onto our first (mostly) Welsh-language release of the month. Landing via the venerable Libertino Records, SYBS are an indie/psych four-piece, whose eclectic sound veers unpredictably across the map.

Frontman Osian Llŷr has cited the likes of Yo La Tengo and Cornelius as influences on his band’s debut ‘Olew Nadroedd’ (translation: Snake Oil), which goes some way to capturing its off-kilter, colourful and patchwork vibe. One minute it’s like Wavves or FIDLAR (‘Gwacter’), the next it’s onto bossa nova rhythms (‘Canned Laughter’) and surreal folk rock flutes (‘Y Wefr’). It’s a super fun, summer-ready album, perfect for strolling the Welsh hillsides and consuming a handful or two of the magical fungi growing all around.

Obey Cobra – ‘Mwg Drwg’

Continuing on the psychedelic tip, though of the more bad trip variety, is Obey Cobra’s ‘Mwg Drwg’. Released on Rocket Recordings (the great noise/psych rock label also home to Pigs x7), this is a thrilling and visceral release, packed full of sinister surprises. The Cardiff-based four-piece overlay viscous synths atop their grinding riffs, which imbues tracks like ‘Kali Yuga’ and ‘Gnostic Shock’ with a remarkable sense of weight, like stalked by a trudging, chain-rattling monster.

The spacious self-titled track is particularly eerie, while closer ‘Blackweir’ upends all expectations by finishing the album on a restrained tension-builder. For fans of this sort of weirdo noise rock; this album is an absolute joy. Others will also discover plenty of menacing delights, as long as they’re willing to place themselves in ‘Mwg Drwg’s destructive path.

Slate – ‘Deathless’

Slate are gaining a lot of attention right now. The young Welsh four-piece are signed to Brace Yourself Records (also home to the likes of Italia 90, JOHN and Panic Shack) and have received support from R1, 6 Music and seemingly all of the UK’s music press.

Wielding a Fontaines D.C.-esque love of Celtic poetry, which they fuse with Ian McColough-style booming vocals and a post-punk palette as dank and moody as the slate-rich hills of North Wales; the confident ‘Deathless’ captures a talented young band with the potential to become something truly special. Some of its post-punk tropes feel a little familiar, but when it finds its feet, like on the titanic opening track ‘Remoter Heaven’, Slate justify the plaudits and then some.

Group Listening – ‘Walks’

This one feels perfect to end the roundup on. Group Listening are an ambient/electronica/jazz duo whose sound is probably best surmised by pointing to their inclusion on Spotify’s Music for Plants playlist. ‘Walks’ is another full-length of gentle and mesmerising explorations, which develop and grow with tendril-like abandon.

Some of the warm synth tones on this album have a Boards Of Canada-like hauntological vibe to them, which, combined with the often simple melodies, conjures images of bright, hazy childhood memories. Everyone will get something different out of it, however, which is testament to the ample intelligence and subtle feeling that Group Listening put into these nine lovely tracks.

Words: Tom Morgan
Photo Credit: Sam Stevens

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