For an Englishman sitting in his English house, in his English town, surrounded by red faced angry people who want to be as English as they possibly can, it is with more than a little envy that that I may glance to the west across the Severn and see lots of proud Welsh people.
No matter the whole of the UK are currently at each others throats, the national identity unites for all except us little Englanders and, let’s be honest, we’re jealous. If you find yourself as a Welsh person on the receiving end of anything from a bit of harmless ribbing to vicious xenophobia it’s basically the green eyed monster wishing we had more of a sense of national pride. But that’s another story.
As far as artistic merit is concerned, it is a very good time to be Welsh, especially The Joy Formidable. Coming off the back of an excellent fourth LP, Aaarth, last year, and curating and arranging their own festival, they are celebrating the 10 year anniversary of their debut release, the EP A Balloon Called Moaning, by giving you double bubble in the shape of the whole record, re-recorded, acoustically, in Welsh. Even the guitars sound Cymry.
It is no cheap trick to be able to strip back a heavy, distorted, pounding rock song to it’s basic component parts; the melody, the tune, the voice. Also, to be able to take lyrics in one language and make them scan in another is no mean feat.
To start with, these are bombastic, emotive songs, so to make them delicate and gentle is a fine art. The melody is the same, the voice more reserved and careful, eloquently pronouncing every syllable, every vowel and consonant to amplify the dialect and language.
With a number of these re-recordings the addition of strings adds weight to otherwise minimal volume created by unplugged instrumentation. ‘Whirring/Chwyrlio’ is particularly gorgeous and as it turns out, a live recording, with guitar, harmony and violin creating a perfect cacophony.
‘The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade/Y Golau Mwyaf yw’r Cysgod’ is lifted in acoustic form by the almost shrieking strings and subtle lines that mimics the original electric guitar lines.
Ultimately it is difficult to compare the two versions of the same song as they are so different from each other, the lyrics naturally sound different and where we expect ‘Cradle/Crud’ to explode out of the ocean like a whale, turning into the writhing beast that it is, there is only calming waters and rippling wave. There’s a paradox where you are prepared for the drop, the kick and the acoustic is almost perverse but packs enough emotional punch.
Large parts of this EP (well if you can call it an EP, at 8 tracks it’s basically an album) made it to their debut LP proper, The Big Roar. ‘The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade’, ‘Cradle’, ‘Austere’ and ‘Whirring‘, these tracks are so familiar and strong now that nothing is lost but everything gained from the beautiful re-imagining.