This week I’ve been caught by surprise by the beauty of Welsh-Cornish musician Gwenno’s second album, Le Kov. It’s one of the more unusual records you’re likely to hear this year: an intricate, otherworldly collection of songs about sunken cities and droll tellers. And it’s all sung in Cornish, a language with less than a thousand native speakers left in the world.
The album taps into a rich seam of artistic creativity and musicianship, just waiting to be respectfully plundered for musical inspiration.
1 – Get lost in the music’s texture
Le Kov is a fearless instrumental patchwork, coming together to form a psychedelic blanket perfect for such a chilly March. Pick out the playground noises, the floating synth arpeggiators, the wooden flutes, the rasping bass flourishes, and what sounds like an old out-of-tune pub piano. The balance is perfectly executed and makes a case for seeing just how kaleidoscopic you can get your soundscape without losing grip of the song’s overarching narrative.
2 – Listen out for some nifty chord ideas
I love the gentle urgency created by constant rocking between minor and major chords in the album’s first single, Tir Ha Mor, and the sensation of blissfully floating downwards by the sinking progression in Jynn-amontya. Well worth sitting with your piano or guitar to get to grips with the bare bones and seeing what you might magpie.
3 – Trace Gwenno’s musical journey from the last album to this one
Whilst Gwenno’s first album, Welsh-speaking that time, was a punchy pop record, within seconds of playing Le Kov you can somehow hear a depth that wasn’t there before. It’s satisfying to hear how Gwenno’s personal artistry is ever-developing, and shows how not to rest on one’s sonic laurels.
4 – Experiment with language
Part of me feels a little bit exposed by the fact that Gwenno’s Cornish lyrics could be about devil worship, and there would be me singing along with a vacant smile on my face. I got the feeling this paranoia might be justified when the Cornish guy I sit opposite at work told me 5th song’s title ‘Eus Keus?’ means ‘Is there cheese?’. But it doesn’t really matter if you can’t understand everything – the words have an intrinsic beauty, and has prompted me to consider how words can be used (English and beyond) for their sonic qualities alone. Crosh floop wuzzle.
5 – Adopt Gwenno and Gruff’s collaborative approach
As on Y Dydd Olaf, Gwenno worked with Rhys Edwards – popularly known as Gruff Rhys – on Le Kov, and throughout the album their respective musical approaches are both distinct yet complementary. An analogy of jam and clotted cream in a fittingly Cornish cream tea just came into my mind and now it won’t go away. In any case – it was clearly an open, gentle collaboration, free from ego and brimming with exponential energy as a result.