Gwenno - Tresor

Gwenno – Tresor

Gwenno has been around for a while, twenty years, touring with Elton John and the Manic Street Preachers during that time. Tresor is her second Cornish language album and is influenced by and inspired by powerful female writers and artists, such as Ithell Colquhoun, the Cornish language poet Phoebe Proctor, Maya Deren and Monica Sjöö. It’s an intimate view of the feminine interior experience, of domesticity and desire, a rare glimmer of life lived in and expressed through Cornish. Born in Cardiff in 1981 to a Cornish Father and Welsh Mother, Gwenno has won Welsh Language awards and been nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize, as one of the twelve shortlisted albums. Although the prize should have been awarded by now, recent events have postponed the ceremony.

A brief review in iWeekend drew my attention to it, plus the words, ‘lockdown’, ‘St. Ives’, and ‘Cornwall’, so I took a punt, at that time unaware of the pending Mercury Prize. I was most pleasantly surprised. It doesn’t really fit anywhere, it’s multi-genre and touches upon our treasured progressive at times. It is both instantly listenable and a grower, mixing song, chants, spoken, and rock vocals with musical influences as diverse as Lady GaGa and Tangerine Dream. There is nothing exclusively prog here, but what you get is inventive and sustaining.

Previous albums have attracted attention, originally as a solo electro pop artist, which goes some way to explaining some of the musical stylings here. Tresor (Treasure) is Gwenno Saunders’ third full-length solo album and the second entirely in Cornish (Kernewek). Written in St. Ives, Cornwall just prior to the Covid lockdowns of 2020, she completed it at home in Cardiff during the pandemic, along with her co-producer and musical collaborator Rhys Edwards. Tresor reveals an introspective focus on home and self, a prescient work echoing the isolation and retreat that has been a central global shared experience over the past two years.

An Steval Nowydh opens simply and evocatively on a pop dance rhythm before breaking into a folky feel with Anima. There is a fair amount of drum machine here, but it serves its purpose. I would much prefer a drummer that breathes, and for information only there are some incredibly talented drummers near St. Ives who would love some session work. If this were a prog album, I might venture that it is a highlight for Gwenno’s talents, but the way it has been structured makes the end result an album rather than a collection of songs. It has surprises; a vocal on a couple of tracks that sounds like Tree Stewart from St. Ives co-residents The Emerald Dawn in ethereal mode. It must be something in the water. I have a suspicion that the drummer on Anima might be breathing.

The title track changes the direction again, this time to an indie style, but no less involving. It’s like Leonard Cohen meets Portishead by way of Wild West Cornwall. A beautiful, chilled tune. N.Y.C.A.W. is quirky and spoken, early Ultravox and Human League, another sign that no musical stone is unturned here. Somehow the narrative/music combination draws you in, unless you speak Gaellic or variants it is the rhythm that touches you and entertains. Men and Toll (sic: ‘Men An Tol’ locally?) is a fine tune about the Cornish fertility ring – pass through for pregnancy. Although only a quarter of a mile from the road, it captures some of the essence of the countryside around the antiquity.

Adnamm (and I leave you to discover the translations and narrative in respect of its lyrical content) is spoken backed with singing. Even without a translation it remains absorbing, with a regular rhythm like running water, meditative before Kan Me returns to a respectful traditional folk-like tune. For me, with these periodical changes, it is relaxing. The album plays out in this fashion and is a diversion from the standard progressive fair.

This is in places ethereal, exhilarating, and stunning and I intend to venture into the back catalogue. It deserves the Mercury Prize.

01. A Steval Nowydh (4:48)
02. Anima (3:18)
03. Tresor (4:09)
04. N.Y.C.A.W. (4:31)
05. Men An Toll (1:33)
06. Ardamm (7:21)
07. Kan Me (4:09)
08. Keltek (3:36)
09. Tonnow (5:56)
10. Porth Ia (3:45)

Total Time – 43:06

Gwenno – Everything

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st July 2022

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