- by Larry Schiffman Rating:8 Release Date:2016-11-18 Label: Waco Gwenci Records
HMS Morris does not play your father's Celtic Music. Even with the addition of psychedelic influences it sounds nothing like what I associate with the genre. Even when lead singer, Heledd Watkins, comes in, it's abundantly clear that she doesn't expect her backing band [Sam Roberts (Bass/ Synth/ Loops/ Backing Vocals), Wil Roberts (Drums)] to bring in the usual cringe-worthy harp and flute sounds one might expect. Even when she performs in, what I assume to be her native language, the songs are coming from a very contemporary place.
Granted that my hearing is not as good as it used to be; and accepting that at least two of the songs are written in a language I do not remotely understand, the vocals are largely buried in the mix. Since lyrics are the last thing I listen for in a song (I eventually get around to them, or simply don't care about what I am missing), HMS Morris is not a band to be analyzed for a profound message.
The band understands and takes advantage of “the good hook”, a technique essential to any piece of pop music. Establish a catchy music phrase or rhythm early, better yet a hook with both, stick with it and the listening audience will hang in for the ride. I'll pick “Gold (Want it) as the sure fire hit single. Over a repeating multi-tracked, harmonized, minor key background, of “Want it Gold” introduced by Ms. Watkins, I am reminded by the best of the group “Garbage”. Incredibly, and very effectively and appealingly, in the next cut, “Interior Design”, the band manages to sound like “Sleater Kinney”. I say this with the highest admiration.
There is surprise and pleasure in virtually every song. Fuzzy synthesizer, that at times sounds like toy piano (listen to the opening of “I Grind My Teeth”), and lovely harmonies spread throughout the album. Yes there moments of psychedelia; but never at the expense of ugly distortion of the melody.
Two songs (“Nirfana”, and “Gormod o Ddyn”) are written and performed in Welsh. Don't think for a second that HMS Morris is falling back on their DNA (they all are from Wales). Like fine musicians everywhere they draw from a particular source of influences, a couple of which I may have identified, or not. It doesn't make any difference. Good music is not imitative but it is derivative.
Just in case you might think that the songs, which can be reasonably categorized as mostly pop, are at risk of disappearing like the cotton candy that is characteristic of that style of music, listen to the last cut, “Shred”. Its haunting melody eventually dissolves into just the right amount of discordance. The song even introduces that flute that some would say is essential to Celtic Music.
This is an excellent and well produced album. It deserves to be heard and appreciated.