9Bach : Anian2016 : Real World
Anyone who saw 9Bach in their earliest incarnation as a duo would have been struck by Lisa Jên's voice and presence. In 2009 a full band sculpted soundscapes for the project’s eponymous debut LP, giving Lisa's beatific vocals further emotional range - making music that forged a deep, visceral connection with the listener.
9Bach have developed creatively since, but have kept a sense of wonder intact. Anian, their third album, is a further step on from Tincian, the award-winning (2015 Album of the Year / BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards) second LP that was released in 2014 on the Real World label.
Anian is characterised by huge attention to detail.
It is a beautifully produced CD. The design of the gatefold cover has the feel of holding an artefact with heft, not a million miles away from holding a vinyl album cover.
There is a companion disc and booklet - Yn dy lais (In your voice) - in which writers, actors, poets and musicians (including Maxine Peake, Rhys Ifans and Peter Gabriel) interpret the songs to make them more accessible to non-Welsh speakers; but Yn dy lais is a lovingly curated and layered project, collaborative and expansive, and not just a translational add on.
Finally, the music itself feels masterfully crafted.
Anian is moodier and more orchestral in its composition than Tincian, although it is often scantly instrumented and percussive. Traditional song structures are artfully stretched; there are a wider variety of influences evident, especially later in the set.
Listened to with headphones in one sitting it is an utterly enchanting work - best as a complete end-to-end creation, but with a good few pivotal moments.
The opening track Llyn Du is a song 'sung by the queen of the black lake, queen of Snowdonia'; it has a haunting, ethereal vocal over a persistent, dark undercurrent of a bass line to go with the frozen desperation of her story.
The seven-minute setting of the traditional song Si Hwi Hwi is a hypnotic lullaby that becomes tense and compressed as a slave ship drum rhythm seeps in to count down the time. It evokes the emotion and anguish of the lyric - a mother holding her child for the last time, the night before she is sold into slavery - and is innovative, affecting and brilliant.
The layered, looped vocals of Heno create a precise trance-like frame for a poem by Gerallt Lloyd Owen, 'a lament for the Welsh nation'.
The album closes with Breuddwyd y Bardd - a traditional song representing the last thoughts of a dying poet. Lisa Jên's striking vocal over a stark but effective guitar (like a half speed, mogadonned early Billy Bragg).
Despite where recognition for Tincian has come from, 9Bach's sound is not folk music in any conventional sense. It has the instruments and a clear heritage in the songs, but it ties together too many influences and is too exploratory not to stretch that label to breaking point. No matter - whatever the genre, Anian is a challenging, experimental and graceful triumph.
9BACH I Llyn Du