New Music 01/2019 – Gwenno, Tracey Thorn, Kelly Lee Owens

The world’s only electronic psychedelic album sung entirely in Cornish; classy mature pop from the Everything But the Girl singer; warm and soothing techno-pop.

Gwenno – Le Kov

Sometimes it’s worth sweeping through various end-of-year Best Albums lists out there, otherwise I doubt I would have come across this curious gem. Gwenno is a Welsh musician and a former singer in the Pipettes, who had released one of the best singles of the 00s with Pull Shapes and nothing much else. Le Kov, her second solo album, is written in Cornish, a nearly extinct old Celtic language now spoken by fewer than a 1,000 people. It is therefore an important cultural record of an endangered language, but of course this alone would not have made it worth picking up. Luckily, Le Kov is an enchanting and immersive kaleidoscope of shimmering melodies and wonderful textures that evoke an otherworldly feeling both ancient and modern.

The album booklet comes with translations of the Cornish lyrics; most of the songs are fairly abstract but it’s impossible to listen to the album highlight Eus Keus? the same way after you find out that the entire song is about… cheese. Yep, that euphoric chorus actually goes, Is there cheese? / Is there or isn’t there? / If there’s cheese, bring cheese / And if there isn’t cheese – bring what’s easy! Either it’s some inside Cornish reference I don’t get, or Gwenno is just being cheeky.

Tracey Thorn – Record

Everything But the Girl was a group I’ve heard of but never really put a song or face to, despite their song Missing being one of those ubiquitous mid-90s dance anthems. So this third solo album is really the first time I made the belated acquaintance with Tracey Thorn and her magnificent smoky voice that can only invite a torrent of superlatives.

However there’s more to Record than a great distinctive vocal. It’s a bubbly yet sophisticated electronic pop album with simple but vivid confessional lyrics that could only come from a lived-in experience, female experience in particular, covering the big milestones of a woman’s life. Air looks back at growing up a misfit – Too tall / All wrong / Deep voice / Headstrong – who is overlooked by the boys; Go is a tender empty-nest song imploring her child to outgrow it all / those marks upon the wall; Sister is an eight-minute disco tribute to the female solidarity with some weary #MeToo commentary – What year is it / Same, same old shit. My personal favourite, Smoke, is a plaintive piano piece tracing Thorn’s long family history with the city of London and her own complicated feelings towards the Big Smoke: London you’re in my blood / But I feel you going wrong. Really excellent stuff.

Kelly Lee Owens – Kelly Lee Owens

I’ve no idea why this debut album by a Welsh-born musician clicked with me, when so much of the similar ambient/techno music with wispy breathy vocals passes through one ear and out the other without making any impact. It’s dreamy and pretty and all, but on the first listen nothing particularly outstanding, with minimalist songs that often consist of nothing but simple beats and looping chants for the lyrics. But there’s just something about the overall vibe and mood that keeps me hooked and is beyond all analysis. I guess it just all comes down to I like it/I don’t like it when it comes to music.

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