IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of Llanberis, Wales/PHOTO CREDIT: @fotios_photos/Unsplash
The 2018 Welsh Music Prize: The Nominees
SO much energy was expended earlier this year…
IN THIS PHOTO: The flag of Wales/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
when the nominations for the Mercury Prize were announced that we forget there are nation-specific awards for Scotland and Wales. It is great the nations get to mark the best of their indigenous talent and I feel the Welsh Music Prize does not get the coverage it warrants. That said; I have been hearing a couple of radio stations mention it and a few of the music magazines/websites have listed the runners and riders! Wolf Alice won this year’s Mercury and, again, it was a year with some notable omissions and a London winner! Many have become aghast at the predictable let-down and slight annoyance you get with the Mercury whilst others feel it has a lot of potential and is giving a platform for artists who really need the exposure. I flip-flop but was irritated a few great albums were omitted from the shortlist this year – among them was Gwenno’s Le Kov and Boy Azooga’s 1,2, Kung Fu! Both of those records are Mercury-worthy but I guess you need to draw a line somewhere! Each of the nominated albums for the Welsh Music Prize are fantastic and I think there is greater depth and strength in this award than there was for the Mercury. It seems like Wales (and Scotland) are leading the way when it comes to running a balanced and quality-packed award!
IN THIS PHOTO: A shot of Borth, Wales/PHOTO CREDIT: @xientce /Unsplash
Before I present the nominees and a little bit about each record; it is probably worth letting DORK give you some information about this year’s Welsh Music Prize:
“The nominees have been revealed for this year's Welsh Music Prize.
With a ceremony planned for Cardiff's Coal Exchange on 7th November, artists up for the gong include former winners Gwenno and Gruff Rhys, Manic Street Preachers, Boy Azooga and Astroid Boys.
There are also nods for Alex Dingley, Bryde, Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks, Catrin Finsh & Seckou Keita, Mellt, Seazoo and Toby Hay.
Co-founder of the award Hew Stephens explains: "It’s another eclectic and electrifying nominations list that the jurors have put forward. The judges will now listen to the twelve excellent albums and decide on a winner. These albums have found audiences worldwide, the musicians are incredible talented ambassadors for Wales and this year’s Welsh Music Prize proves that creativity in music from Wales is at an all time high”.
It is a rich and exciting time for Welsh music and, as many of the mainstream music sites ignore stuff outside of Wales; this list of juicy albums shows what colour, talent and nuance is coming from the proud and noble nation! I have had the pleasure of reviewing some of the albums below – and interviewed artists associated with them – and can attest to their power and hard work. Take a look and listen through the nominated twelve and, to all of the artists nominated, all the very…
PHOTO CREDIT: @florenciaviadana/Unsplash
BEST of luck!
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images/Artists
Astroid Boys – Broke
Release Date: 29th September, 2017
Label: Sony Music Entertainment Inc.
Standout Track: Dirt
“But ultimately – as has been said numerous times in this review alone – Broke isn’t a rock album, rather a grime album proactively brought forward to try and give rock its swagger and edge back. And if, off the back of this, Astroid Boys do continue to be embraced within those circles, that’s only a good thing, as Broke is the sort of incendiary, crucially modern project that’s well and truly needed. Whether Astroid Boys will be the ones to unite the two camps for good remains to be seen, but for what has been a long time coming, an album has crossed over into the rock world with the firepower to potentially make some huge changes down the line” – The Sound Board
Boy Azooga – 1,2, Kung Fu!
Release Date: 8th June, 2018
Standout Track: Jerry
“The sense that (Davey) Newington has poured everything into this significant debut ensures an emotional resonance at the heart of songs like ‘Waitin’, with the spiralling repetition of its weary chorus set to cause all kinds of borderline obscene tingles within festival-goers over the coming months.
The love for his craft that Newington clearly possesses is writ large across these eleven songs and the bloated Sabbath crescendo of closer ‘Sitting On The First Rock From The Sun’ is a bizarrely fitting finale. It feels like a release, entirely lacking cynicism, simply the right thing for that moment in the song. It’s a philosophy that Boy Azooga lives by on ‘1, 2 Kung Fu’ to often giddying effect” – CLASH
Bryde - Like an Island
Release Date: 13th April, 2018
Standout Track: Fast Awake
“Bryde’s tone and voice inflections in Transparent are so elegantly captivating, and drastically differs from the nostalgically grungy tunes that precede it, with more of an organic feel that accentuates the angelic facet of her voice. If Alanis Morissette and Jewel wrote a lullaby together, it may sound something like this.
The delicacy of Bryde’s vocals works perfectly in accordance with minimal instrumentals or heavy electric guitars, and first time listeners will be enamoured with her sound straight away, whether she is in a whisper or singing angstily. The singer-songwriter has a newfound attitude that shines brightly in this solo project, and it’s always refreshing to see the rise of a strong indie female artist” – Thank Folk for That
Eugene Capper & Rhodri Brooks - Pontvane
Release Date: 29th September, 2017
Label: Bubblewrap Records
Standout Track: Yonderer
“The majority of the tracks lilt along in an acoustic or semi-acoustic reverie. ‘That’s Who’ is full of pain and understanding. The addition of the harmonica reinforces the impression of being alone on the plains of Wales, enhanced by a pensive instrumental outro. There are clear Americana references such as on ‘Yonderer’. In contrast, on ‘Sophie’s Song’ the slide guitar makes it sound more like it’s on a land-locked Hawaii. In this sparse track, ‘cigarettes don’t calm me down’ is half-sung, half-narrated over a waltz rhythm. On ‘Please Do’, the slide guitar glides like a slow dance at a wedding. It is a South Pacific lullaby. Sing this to your loved one by a campfire or even a gasfire. It’s about taking off your boots and staying in.
Pontvane has a number of additional collaborators all which contribute to its quality. Of special note is ‘Scary Shoes’ which features Girl Ray. Psych-lite, it is a bit of toe-tapping deliciousness, ‘my heart doesn’t beat like it used to’. ‘Kingsland Road’ also benefits from the addition of a female vocal. What should be the prettiest of songs, though, is disturbed by the disorder of a radio interruption midway” – God Is in the TV
Alex Dingley - Beat the Babble
Release Date: 2nd December, 2016
Label: Birth Records
Standout Track: Butterfly Corpses
“There are highlights in the ten tracks - the rolling piano and mix of yearning and regret that defines Between the Sheets, the affecting simplicity of If I Asked You to Dance, the melancholy of Lovely Life to Leave - but the overall impression whilst listening from start to finish is of being somewhere else entirely, spirited away from the humdrum into someone else's imagination. The music flows and dances by like an extended hypnagogic dream.
The reason for this is straightforward. The record (it is still available at the time of writing on blue vinyl) lives and breathes in a space bound on one side by the intuition of The Velvet Underground, another by the music The Cure appear to be making in the claustrophobic wardrobe in Tim Pope's film for their classic single Close to Me, and on a third by the liminal magic of an Edwardian fairground at dusk.
This is Beat the Babble's first UK issue - but it is Dingley's third LP and was originally released three years ago in the US. The last time I owned an album as singular and individual as this was Clash cohort Tymon Dogg's Relentless, and I wore the brilliant music out of the grooves of it. Where Relentless was often angry and political, Beat the Babble is intensely personal, but just as essential; this is one of 2018's albums of the year, and of any other year you might care to pick” – From the Margins
Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita – SOAR
Release Date: 27th April, 2018
Standout Track: Clarach
“The exultation of flight is captured on opener Clarach, kora and harp cascading around each other intricately, while the enforced migration of slavery is addressed in 1677, a darker, bluesier piece referring to the infamous slave station of Goree – though even here the playing is gloriously airborne. Bach to Baïsso begins as an extract from Bach’s Goldberg Variations before flipping into an antique Senegalese tune with griot chants; a daring but successful leap. The pair take turns to supply an underlying riff or play lead, but the interplay between their instruments is seamless, and testimony to their years working together. Hypnotic and ethereal, Soar is a unique marriage of cultures” – The Guardian
Gwenno - Le Kov
Release Date: 2nd March, 2018
Standout Track: Eus Keus?
“Gwenno effortlessly glides between styles on ‘Le Kov’ – the seamless transitions between forlorn piano and frosted beats (Aphex Twin was an inspiration) to pristine drums and discordant brass evoke a Cornwall that’s as easily accessible as it is steeped in tradition and folklore…
Like her debut, ‘Y Dydd Olaf’, delivered in her native welsh (the Cornish comes from her parents, it was spoken around the house, and her father is a Cornish poet), the fact that the majority of people won’t understand the lyrics matters not. ‘Le Kov’ would be a wonderful album even if it were sung in Gallifreyan” – Loud and Quiet
Toby Hay - The Longest Day
Release Date: 21st June, 2018
Label: The state51 Conspiracy
Standout Track: Leaving Chicago
“This is music that proves powerfully potent at evoking crystal-clear images of the places and moments that may have inspired it. Both parts of the string-enhanced, majestically swirling “Curlew” bring to mind a more spontaneous take on the luxuriously orchestrated epics on sometime musical partner Jim Ghedi’s recent gem A Hymn for Ancient Land. The pull of Hay’s music is not reliant on ornamentation, however. The contemplative closer “At The Bright Hem of God” features little beyond Hay’s guitar but proves the most moving moment on an album not exactly short of highlights, a deeply resonant, beautifully built piece worthy of comparison to Michael Chapman’s greatest guitar compositions” – The Line of Best Fit
Manic Street Preachers - Resistance Is Futile
Release Date: 13th April, 2018
Label: Columbia Records
Standout Track: International Blue
“The true character of this 13th album probably lies on ‘Distant Colours’ and ‘Broken Algorithms’ – lamenting how transient culture has become, how social media and fake news have diluted knowledge in the echo chamber of digital hiss and zeroes and ones. The band who once told you to know your enemy now realise that the enemy is omnipresent, yet also invisible and unknowable. Still, the Manics are kicking against the pricks just as hard as ever. In their existence alone they continue to fight the good fight – but the sheer scale, pop-pomp and balls on show here render their survival an absolute victory. Resistance may be futile, but the Manics continue to advance” – NME
Mellt - Mae’n Hawdd Pan Ti’n Ifanc
Release Date: 20th April, 2018
Label: Recordiau JigCal Records
Standout Track: Tex
“Since ‘Cysgod Cyfarwydd’ appeared on their first EP back in 2014, Mellt have been rated as one of the best chorus writers around, and they seem keen to remind us of that ability on songs such as ‘Rebel’ and ‘Tex’. However, their strikingly humorous and healthy lyrical ode to being young threatens to steal the show as the album’s main attraction. Both of those features help to create an album where an unashamed pop sensibility doesn’t necessarily lead to a compromise in edginess and authenticity.
Stylistically, the Mellt formula is somewhat stretched in the steadier wails of ‘Gwên Werth Mwy na Bwled’, and in the Blur-meets-Libertines bed to guest vocalist Garmon’s classic old school Welsh alt-rock rants. However, as last track ‘Glan Llyn’ halts towards the chorus, the band’s use of the album’s title reminds us all of why we’re here in the first place, and how we’ve listened to a well-constructed half hour of pure indie hookiness” – Let It Happen
Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg
Release Date: 8th June, 2018
Label: Rough Trade Records
Standout Track: Frontier Man
“Babelsberg, you soon realise, is a kind of primer of those pleasingly eccentric, non-youth-oriented mainstream pop styles that flourished in the States from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, somewhere between Glen Campbell’s first flush of success and AOR’s first incursions, via MOR’s heyday. ‘Limited Edition Heart’ has a lovely, smooth Carpenters swirl and depth to it. There is more than a touch of early Steely Dan to ‘Take That Call’. ‘Architecture of Amnesia’ might have Father John Misty checking his wallet, but Rhys has been craftily plundering the same sources for a good while now. A duet with Lily Cole, ‘Selfies In The Sunset’, makes a poignant coda, as though Nancy and Lee replaced their archness and menace with a meditative, wistful air of acceptance.
Throughout it – as throughout his career, with others and solo – flows Rhys’s gift for melody, which seems to rise from him as easily, naturally and endlessly as water from a spring. In the end, you can’t beat a good tune or ten. And when they carry this much imagination with them, it becomes a form of gentle wizardry. Any enchantment is bound to fall on deaf ears, at times; mine remain tuned in to Rhys, and I’m glad of it” – The Quietus
Seazoo – Trunks
Release Date: 2nd February, 2018
Standout Track: Dig
“Recorded in bedrooms and the aforementioned bunker above, Trunks is the debut album from this up-and-coming act. Having previously received love from BBC’s Huw Stephens, Lauren Laverne, Steve Lamacq, Mark Radcliffe, as well as a handful of notable online tastemakers, this handful of charming numbers is sure to expand on the impressive reach this young band has already made.
Without digging too far into these cats, you’ll quickly see the outlined comparisons to the long-standing indie rock legends, Yo La Tengo. And, those associations are pretty spot on. The playful and carefree nature easily brings you fully into that frame, and it’s something that you don’t see too often. There are wonderfully poppy moments throughout — catchy hooks, unique vocal cadences, and grin-inducing harmonies — but it never feels forced, or overdone. It comes off with a nonchalant air that’s simply intoxicating and downright addicting” – The Music Ninja