Gwenno - Le Kov

by John Plowright Rating:8 Release Date:2018-03-02
Gwenno - Le Kov
Gwenno - Le Kov

Since fronting The Pipettes, Gwenno Saunders has gone back to her roots linguistically, if not musically. The daughter of Welsh and Cornish language activists (her father is Cornish poet Tim Saunders), Gwenno’s first solo album - 2015’s well-received Y Dydd Olaf - was all in Welsh, with the exception of the closing track, comprising a Cornish-language poem by her father. Gwenno’s new album, Le Kov (the place of memory), thus literally picks up where her previous album left off, as all of its ten tracks are in Cornish.

Such an enterprise could be sneered at as commercially foolhardy on the grounds that Cornish is a moribund language, or attacked as representing an act of cultural appropriation. Neither assertion would, however, be fair as the album speaks eloquently to the status of Cornish as a living language and Gwenno, for whom English was her third language as a child, has an unimpeachable birthright to speak in defence of, and sing in, Cornish.

But what of the music itself?

The album’s first track (Hy a Skoellyas Lyf a Dhagrow) shares the same name as the fourteenth track on Aphex Twin’s 2001 Drukqs double album, although here one is more likely to hear elements of Gainsbourg, Badalmamenti, Madreblu, Boards of Canada or even Got a Girl, with long-time collaborator Rhys Edwards acting as Nakamura to Gwenno’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Anyone expecting a Tintagel-tinged Arthurian take on Cornwall will be surprised by the songs’ subject matter, which ranges from a comprehensive list of Cornish settlements (Eus Keus?) to the A30 jammed with summer tourists (Daromes Y’n Howl), though the mood here is much more placid than Catatonia’s Road Rage, with lush synth backing, after a little initial dissonance, perfectly complementing Gwenno’s breathy delivery.

In short, Le Kov is much more than a curiosity and repays re-listening. The album overall exercises a delightfully languorous spell although I suspect that only Tir Ha Mor, an atypically uptempo number, is likely to encourage the average punter to try out their Cornish by singing along. Most, however, will be more than content simply to surrender their ears to Gwenno’s beguiling Cornish tongue.

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