Standout tracks are Si Hwi Hwi, a sort of slave lullaby with lovely voice harmonies, the eastern-influenced Cyfaddefa and the a cappella Heno. Largely recorded live, Welsh-language band 9Bach’s third album takes simple elements – Lisa Jen’s ethereal vocals, piano, bass and percussion – and weaves complex patterns. Opening track Llyn Du sets the pace with an organic, trip-hoppy feel, an atmosphere that lingers before If an – a musing on the true story of a boy raised by a pack of wild dogs – alters the mood with vocal over solo piano and heavier, weirder interludes. Standout tracks are Si Hwi Hwi, a sort of slave lullaby with lovely voice harmonies, the eastern-influenced Cyfaddefa and the a cappella Heno. The overdriven, understated guitar on closer Breuddwyd y Bard is a real treat.
The Welsh-language band return with a set dominated by the exquisite vocals of Lisa Jên, who also adds piano and wrote many of the lyrics and melodies.
Read the full review here.
FT Life & Arts
…Lisa Jen’s voice navigates microtonal wobbles straight out of Piraeus and the drums crash in four minutes in to brew a heady dance.
Their previous album, 2014 Tincian, looked back to the hardships of rural life in north Wales, this majestically does away with any hankering for the past. Hell – if they were Scandinavians they would be selling out arenas very soon.
Lisa Jęn’s ethereal voice still swoops beguilingly over Martin Hoyland’s expansive arrangements, fusing harps, dulcimers and guitars with dub beats, loops and pounding bass… ‘Yr Olaf’ sounds like Kate Bush conducting a Druidic ceremony.
“..Anian is an altogether stunning and engrossing album of depth and diversity which touches the listener’s head, heart and soul. Never forgetting its roots, yet grounded in the present, Anian looks set to become an essential part of a lot of people’s soundtrack to a brighter future – and deservedly so.” Read the full review here.
“….the defining feature of Anian is its artful beauty. The yin is the gossamer-layered harmony vocals of Lisa Jên, Mirain and Esyllt; the cas- cading other-worldly, kora-like harp; the 9Bachian piano motifs (check out the 9Bach archetype in the apocalyptic apology, Deryn); the beguiling and lucid melodic lines. The yang is Martin’s trademark dirty guitar riffs and effects; Dan’s pulsing dub bass lines and Ali’s intuitive drumming.” Read the full review here.
Q Magazine review
“Lisa Jen is still singing in Welsh but, like Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares before them, 9Bach weave their tales so delicately that telling them in a minority language need not be their commercial death knell. Jen’s vocals are beguiling, but behind her lies all sorts of wonder: Cyfaddefa’s Eastern-influenced spartan percussion; Heno’s almost Enya-like wall of vocals; Llyn Du’s cascading choruses.”
“…lyrics may be lost on non Welsh speakers, but the gravity of… the subject matters – love and loss, identity and the power of nature – is conveyed amply through Lisa Jen’s dextrous delivery.”
“Easily the best Welsh language record since the Super Furry Animals’ Mwng.”
“It’s been five years since 9Bach’s debut, a trip-hop take on traditional Welsh folk, but that has been time well spent as Lisa Jen and Martin Hoyland have learnt how to write songs that build on their heritage yet still resonate with an essence of the hills, rivers, quarries and hard-scrabble environment that shape their lives. With jen appearing on the sleeve as if in a police mugshot, album title on a board around her neck, there’s already a hint they have a story to tell, and the 10 songs flow like a suite, darkness and a hint of pain linking them as effectively as Jen’s voice highlights the magical realism – haunted buildings, stolen children, death on the mountains – behind so many folk songs. File next to the Super Furries’ Mwng as a landmark album for Welsh-language pop.”
The Financial Times Online
“Touring their second album, the Welsh folk-rockers give traditional music a spectacular makeover. ”Lliwia”, a synaesthesiac celebration of childbirth, snuck in on skittering brushed cymbals and keyboard warbles and a frantic oscillation of shakers. When Jen, hand on heart, sang the aching chorus, folding up and over above where the melody had any right to be, it felt like trip-hop on gas and air. An evening of spectacular reinvention ended with “Wedi Torri” riding nagging and claustrophobic over tides of Dan Swain’s fast-thumbed bass; when Byworth’s drums fell silent, the bassline tumbled down and away like a landslip.” Read the full review here.
“Lisa Jen, whose cool and exquisite vocals in Welsh (and a dash of Greek) dominate the album. She is backed by a band who mix an often languid wash of guitars, bass, harp and harmony vocals with subtle use of technology, adding loops or dub effects. The songs are all self-written, but fit easily alongside the one traditional track, and there are appearances by a male-voice choir and two members of the Australian aboriginal performance group, the Black Arm Band Company. The a cappella duet between Lisa Jen and Lou Bennett is one of the highlights of this low-key but impressive set.”
2009 Studio album
The bright young folk
This album is something of a curious gem – a collection of traditional Welsh songs (sung in entirely in Welsh) with a modern backing. The more traditional harmonium and harp and mesh effortlessly with xylophone, the occasional flourish of moody electronics, shifting bass lines and the atmospheric chiming and squawking of electric guitar. Weaving through it all is the soft and beguiling voice of Lisa Jen Brown.
Live, she cheerfully explains the premise of the songs but on the CD we are afforded no such helping hand. The enigmatic sleeve has only the minimum amount of information, all of which is useless if you don’t read Welsh. In practice this is less irksome than you might imagine, as if encourages you to loose yourself in the songs, which is easy and doing so is a pleasure.
One of the songs I was able to find a little more about is Yr Eneth Gadd Ei Gwrthod (in English: The Rejected Maiden). It’s the true story of the mysterious death of Jane Williams, a young woman of seemingly irreproachable character who was found dead in the river Dee in 1868. She was spurned by her lover and fell into a depression as you might expect but was found dead after her mood lifted and she was back on friendly terms with her beau.
The next track Llongau Caernarfon (The Ships of Caernarfon) is a much sadder song, which gets it’s beauty from its simple arrangement.
Things speed up for Gwydr Glas (Blue Glass) with it’s mesmeric harp line and the album closes with Lisa Lân, which is a fine summary of what the band are about. Over the course of seven and a half minutes it starts off delicately, gets positively rousing in a middle, before gently ebbing away like the tide at the end.
I have to confess I am almost completely ignorant of the young Welsh folk scene and so far my efforts to find out have met with limited success. However, it’s unlikely that 9Bach are typical of anything in particular because they dare to develop their own personality outside of any market in particular. In doing so, they have succeed spectacularly and have created an album of rare beauty.
The Music Fix
The Music Fix first became aware of the exquisite 9Bach when they accompanied Gruff Rhys on the madcapCandylion tour. Since then we’ve eagerly scoured listings and release schedules hoping to chance upon them again but, until now, they’ve been exceptionally elusive. I know that tradition dictates that you should always leave an audience wanting more but this was getting ridiculous. All of a sudden and 9Bach are everywhere, a GreenMan set last week, an album through the letterbox this week and a Cardiff date next week; it never rains but it pours.
Not that we’re complaining you understand. Now, I have to tell you, listening to the album is a fundamentally different experience to catching 9Bach live and to a certain extent I feel that I’m out of my depth. Look, I’m a Cardiff boy, I’m proud to visit the Millennium Stadium and cheer on Gareth Bale as he nips down the wing but I just can’t speak Welsh. This is rarely a significant disadvantage but today I’m at a bit of a loss. When you see the band live Lisa Jen will give the audience some verbal crib notes before performing a song but here, I’m on my own. I’ll do my best…
Fortunately I can recall a few things from last week’s festival set and can confidently tell you that opening track Bwthyn fy Nain is a traditional Welsh folk tale about an old woman who has lived her entire life on a quiet mountainside, tending her pgs and sheep and in blissful ignorance of the horrors of war, terrorism and hate which beleaguer the rest of the world. A song which yearns, I suppose, for the freedom to escape the artificial, man made problems of the world. It is beautifully recorded with a simple arrangement which nevertheless veers away from the traditional welsh folk approach and instead gives the music space to breathe and resonate, resulting in a sound as warm and organic as that of the Cowboy Junkies Trinity Sessions. They didn’t have a xylophone solo though so extra points to 9Bach there.
The arrangement of Mae Nhw’n Dwedyd provides the first real surprise of the album as it is more Portishead than Planxty. This underlines the determined 9Bach manifesto to make these ancient folk songs accessible to a contemporary audience. They may be delivered in their original tongue but there’s really nothing to scare the non-native Welsh speaker from engaging with 9Bach. Just listen to the heartbreaking yearning in Lisa’s harmonium accompanied voice as she delivers Llongau Caernarfon and you instantly know this is a song of loss, you don’t need to know that she’s scouring the horizon for he long-lost sailor husband in order to connect. The language ought to be no more a barrier than the Northumbrian dialect of The Unthanks would be to appreciating their traditional tunes.
Pontypridd is perhaps the most ‘traditional’ folk performance of the set and comes complete with some enchanting arpeggios and lilting melodies from Esyllt Jones’ harp. This arrangement contrasts perfectly with the bass heavy Pa Bryd y Deui Eto which tips a nod to the Super Furries. Closing track Lisa Lan is also notable for it’s bass lines which recall those of Pentangle’s Danny Thompson, carrying Lisa’s spellbinding vocals along with them before finally cutting them loose and allowing them to fade out into the ether. The perfect album for all those long, dark winter nights ahead of us. Highly recommended.