‘A fifteen track Welsh language record interspersed with fractured instrumental interludes’ – this wouldn’t be the standard premise offered to any new band on how to make a breakthrough with their debut long-player, but then Adwaith aren’t your ‘standard’ emerging band, and who cares about ‘industry’ advice anyway? Less a debut album and more a document in grainy sepia-tinged technicolour,“It’s about growing up, it’s like a documentary on us since we started in this band because we used all the songs since we started the band three years ago, on this album.” they told me in an interview earlier this year. Thus Melyn which means ‘Yellow’ in Welsh, is a vivid depiction of growth and a testament to why I have previously dubbed Adwaith the most constantly exciting and evolving new Welsh band around. What shines through these fifteen tracks is the sheer quality, breadth and maturity of the songwriting with new details revealing themselves with each listen, possessed of the distinctive quality of three talented childhood friends with the vision to see beyond their Welsh Walian background, borders and to a brighter horizon beyond the margins.
Melyn was recorded with producer Steffan Pringle last summer in the seclusion of Giant Wafer Studios in Llandrindod Wells, mid-Wales, with further sessions taking place over the last year in Cardiff. From their debut single ‘Pwysau’ to the quiet intimacy of final instrumental track ‘Tair’ these three inspirational artistic young women take us on a journey through their adolescence, to leaving school and deciding not to go to university, instead deciding to pursue their artistic vision in a band, giving us a snapshot of their background and self-discovery.
They also take us on a musical one too, second track ‘Lipstick Coch’ fizzes with intricate guitar licks, fuzzing basslines and interwoven melodies, the ghostly ‘Diafol’ inspired by the tale of Robert Johnson trading his soul with the devil, bounds subtly on the back of resounding drum hits and wonky synths, slithered with a melodic hook that’s both evocative and insidiously catchy even hinting at the early work of the Beta Band. ‘Osain’ with its chiming almost c-86 indie pop beat, is a delight. Darker post-punk influences from the likes of Young Marble Giants, the Slits and PiL rustle through the record, the filthy bounding basslines, wonky rhythms and ghost ride keyboards of ‘Colli Golwg’ wobbles along like the younger cousin of the Specials ‘Ghost Town‘, the insistent percussion, chunky bass and bar chord riffing of ‘Yn Fy Mhen’ possesses a menace that’s redolent of Pixies.
They are socially conscious too, the fuzzy vital buzz of ‘Newid’ which means ‘change’ in English, with its spooky textures and tumbling refrains is about empowering a new generation in the face of the injustice and inequality from ‘Maggie Thatcher‘ to Brexit a disconnect between Wales and Westminster, “Its an angry song about Tories and Donald Trump’ explains Hollie. Gwenllian Anthony’s lyrics are anchored in defiance (“They will never break us. Looking at the giants above us, passion will rise from us all”). Adwaith have also been encouraging gender equality within the Welsh music scene too, via the creation of the FEMME gig nights and the release of the catchy misogyny ridiculing English single of the same name. They’re also advocates of the Welsh language and culture, singing proudly in their mother tongue; some may worry about whether this will mean they hit the same glass ceiling of the London based industry, that has stopped other Welsh bands from crossing over, but their melodies are so strong, their music so textured and diverse that they transcend these concerns, one could see Melyn following in the footsteps of Super Furry Animals ‘Mwng‘ or Gwenno‘s ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ as a Welsh album that can redefine Welsh music and carve a place for itself beyond the principality.
These songs capture a nostalgia, they’re about growing up and leaving behind your past but also stepping into the sunlight of the future. In Hollie Singer they have a vocalist of genuine unique quality, with the ability to challenge, and arrest in one couplet. Bassist, lyricist and keyboardist Gwenllian Anthony is a fiercely outspoken presence and these two are anchored by the softly spoken determination of drummer Heledd Owen, whose talent is growing into a burgeoning presence. They have that knack too, to infuse more downtempo moments with an emotional and melodic quality that makes these songs rattle around your head for days. The subtle tumbling arpeggios and drum shuffles of their first single ‘Pywsau’ with its low key sound bringing to mind the spindling intimacy of Kimya Dawson, to the glorious widescreen moving standout ‘Fel I Fod’ that deals with the uncertainty and fear of life at the threshold of a new beginning, its echoing refrains coupled with magnificent atmospherics and chiming guitars that hove into view through grey clouds, it possesses a transformative power. It’s already one of the most streamed Welsh language songs of all time.
While the slowly enveloping textures of final track proper ‘Gartref’ encapsulates that feeling of missing home and feeling lost, it was written whilst the band travelled home from an Italian festival – “We were feeling very overwhelmed. It’s about a longing for home and not knowing where it is.”
At such a nascent stage of their career, Adwaith have achieved so much – they’re prolific too – they have an arsenal of quality songs that means they don’t even have to include some of their previous singles here, instead choosing to fit this album together like a jigsaw puzzle rather than putting all the pieces in regardless. Thus Melyn is an absolutely sublime document to their craft, a moving appreciation of where they’ve come from and where they’re going, and what’s most exciting is you feel like this is just the start.