Adwaith - Bato Mato (Libertino Records) 1

Adwaith – Bato Mato (Libertino Records)

For this, their second record, we join a train ride to outer Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express – the longest railway line in the world – with Welsh trio Adwaith. Their guide Bato Mato, after whom the album is named, points out a frozen-over Lake Baikal whipping past the windows as they head to the cold city of Ulan-Ude. The songs that make up Bato Mato are infected by this sense of movement and disconnection of place, a confusion with the world, travelling further into the darkest depths of Eastern Europe for a festival, a long way from the band’s Carmarthen roots.

“It was a life changing trip that really inspired us to write this album,” explains bassist Gwenllian Anthony. “Our journey through the Siberian and Mongolian wilderness influenced the writing and sound of the album to be as open and big as the limitless sky around us there,” adds Hollie Singer.

After returning home and plunged into the depths of lockdown they scrapped previous sessions and forged the sound for their new record, working again with their debut album Melyn’s producer Steffan Pringle (Estrons, Boy Azooga) at Giant Wafer studios in Llandrindod Wells, a community in mid-Wales. Together they have produced a sound rich with fascinating detail, exploring new depths and expanding the textures of Melyn making the intensely personal widescreen, it’s framed in a kind of atmospheric reverb and grit that threads these tracks together, blurring the boundaries between art pop, indie, krautrock and psychedelia. Each intricate detail reveals itself further upon each listen, like all great albums it’s unmistakably Adwaith, and distinctively Bato Mato.

Opener ‘Cuddio’ is propelled by an almost Krautrock rhythm, one can imagine each drum strike echoing the clipping sound of each of the train tracks on their journey. Then there’s the entwined melodies and fuzzy guitars, reaching further and deeper into the darkness of the night. “There’s no one on the street but me,” sings Hollie, returning once more to the abandoned streets of Ulan-Ude. ‘Sudd’ pulses and grooves on a mechanical drum beat and dirty bassline while pirouetting insidious Welsh harmonies are weaving their way into your head.

Melyn – which won the Welsh Music Prize in 2019 – was a musical document of their formative years, dreaming of the possibilities of adulthood. Bato Mato looks in the mirror and sees stark reality biting. Matching Singer’s explorative lyrics, which yearn for a simple life and “a place to call my own”,  it dives deep into the isolation and painful confusion of navigating the messy landscape of your early twenties.

“Our first album was very much about growing up in west Wales and going from teenagers to adults,” says Anthony. “This is the next step in our journey: shit, this is life. We hit reality.”

At the heart of the album is where that weight of the world is felt most keenly. ‘Wedi Blino‘ (tired) digs deeper into these grim realities turning up the fuzz guitars and intricate percussion and wistful melodies for a hazy train ride through the anxieties and uncertainties of your early 20s, like a distant cousin of a Belly track this is hook-laden and bittersweet. It’s an excellent piece of songwriting. “It’s about being worried that life is going too fast or the worries of a relationship, the overwhelming feeling that you’re not good enough and that you are the reason things aren’t working out.”

‘Cwympo’, meanwhile, simmers with a heavy melancholic unease like dark clouds overhead, from sinister, introspective verses and clanging acoustics, into a percussive and fuzzbox-riven climax, it is expert songwriting that reminds me of Radiohead‘s OK Computer.

‘Lan Y Mor‘ is bursting with creativity and bright grooving melodies. This fizzing rocket takes off riding on hip-swinging 60’s surf riffs, buzzing basslines underpinned by fantastic motoric drums. This is fearless and inventive songwriting of Hollie, Heledd, and Gwenllian, following their creative instincts.

Named after a popular Welsh saying – “Not everything yellow is gold” – ’Nid Aur’ hurtles along with the urgency of an early Goat Girl song, colliding with the melodies of early Super Furry Animals, “Slow and steady wins the race,” Singer commits, reciting the story in Aesop’s Fables’ of the The Tortoise and the Hare. “Numbness makes me feel better”; it is an absolutely incredible riot of melodies, sinewy guitars and thudding basslines.

Owen, Anthony and Singer grew up in or around Carmarthen and attended Welsh-language schools. Beloved local music venue The Parrot lay at the core of the town’s rich and tight-knit music scene. Forming the band back in 2015, the trio instinctively knew that they wanted to join the long lineage of acts in the country challenging the dominance of English music. “I remember seeing Gwenno play at [Welsh-language music festival] Eisteddfod, and I hadn’t seen many women performing in the Welsh language before,” Gwen offers. “Watching those shows really solidified that we could do something with Adwaith. As we progress, we’ve realised how important it is to carry on singing and writing in Welsh.” Thus Adwaith’s songs deftly wield the Welsh language with a beauty yet also a muscular and brutal directness. They tread lightly with a big stick. Having personally been trying and failing to learn Welsh on Duolingo for the last year this record will help people to dysgu cymraeg around the world too. This confident straight to the heart approach perhaps hasn’t been heard before by a Welsh band; even ‘Mwng’ was released at a time when Welsh was considered niche and the Super Furry Animals were questioned for it. Now, Adwaith along with Gwenno and a new wave of artists are leading a charge for a newly confident emerging Welsh culture .

Penultimate track ‘Amser Codi’ is a moment of subtle clarity, a slow motion melody set against elegant percussion, with Gwen’s bounding basslines and chiming acoustics framing Singer’s swelling vocals that resplendently capture all the contemplative beauty of the parting of the clouds.

Closer ‘ETO‘ is perhaps Adwaith at their most anthemic and pop yet; with a widescreen sound it is soaring, with stargazing bursting positively through the speakers. Throbbing and introspective verses give way to a glorious, anthemic chorus swelling on a wave of drums and glistening guitars. It is consumed by a big-hearted infatuation and under its skin lies the jarring contradictions of love. “It takes and it takes,” they sing in Welsh, “that’s what love is.” In short, it’s bloody fantastic.

They say you have to go away to really find yourself, and sometimes clichés are true because with their trip into Siberia the trio have faced themselves and found a new direction. With their second record Adwaith have carved out their most formidable document yet and witnessing them grow as a group has been a pleasure. While confusion and uncertainty at the world may hang like a shadow over each vowel, this is the sound is of a band finding a new confidence, hitting their stride, cementing their place, with one of the finest Welsh language albums ever released. Make no mistake, Bato Mato is a superb second album from one of Wales’s best current bands. All aboard the Adwaith Express!

Adwaith – Bato Mato (Libertino Records)
Adwaith – Bato Mato (Libertino Records)
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