thu 18/08/2022

CD: Gwenno - Le Kov | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Gwenno - Le Kov

CD: Gwenno - Le Kov

An assured and impressive album that celebrates difference within a common landscape

There was a hint of what was to come in Gwenno Saunders’ debut, Y Dydd Olaf. It was, for the most part, a Welsh-language affair, save for the closing track “Amser”, a song sung in Cornish and the album’s dizzying slow dazzle. For her follow-up, Le Kov, Gwenno has chosen to record an entire album in this Brythonic language that has, in recent times, gamely rallied itself from UNESCO-declared death.

Le Kov, then, exists as a document of a living language, albeit one that the majority of listeners will have no working knowledge of. In order to make real sense of the songs, we have to do the reading as well as the listening – we’ve been dropped off in the middle of nowhere and asked to find our way home with a book and a map rather than a Sat Nav app.

This is, in some ways, a more assured album than its predecessor

That’s not to say that Le Kov is hard work – far from it. The sonic landscapes that these story songs inhabit are accessible: new, but posessed of a faint familiarity. It all makes sense when one realizes that the translation of the album’s title is “the place of memory”.

This is, in some ways, a more assured album than its predecessor. While there are still shared reference points with the likes of Broadcast and the Soundcarriers, there is also rare sophistication and scope at play. Opener “Hi a Skoellyas Liv a Dhagrow” (“She Shed a Flood of Tears”) boasts the sort of perfectly picked bass playing and soaring strings that one would expect of a vintage Vannier/Gainsbourg production, while the subtle shifts in “Herdhya” (“Pushing”) posses a delicate, electronic refinement.

The more propulsive moments are equally as impressive. “Eus Keus?” is glorious pop, with chiming, chourused guitars and a joyus refrain, while the melody of “Tir Ha Mor” (“Land And Sea”) positively surges, rising and falling with palpable emotional weight. “Daromres y’n Howl” (“Traffic In The Sun”), which sees Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys joining for vocal duties, is another quirky pop masterpiece: mid-paced, but as far from middle-of-the-road as it’s possible to be.

At a time when we’re headed towards post-Brexit cultural hegemony, Le Kov is a wonderful celebration of a rich and diverse culture. Gwenno carefully frames the unfamiliar and, in doing so, shows us how stories can be told in different tongues, and yet be steeped in a shared language.


Overleaf: watch the video for "Tir Ha Mor"

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