9Bach : 9Bach (2019)10.08.2019 : Real World
Before the award-winning Tincian and the graceful triumph of Anian, 9Bach laid the foundations of their creative career with an eponymous debut album of unique folk music created in a spirit of post-punk fearlessness.
Originally released on Welsh label Sain in 2009, four years after the band first formed, 9Bach has now been repackaged and reissued by Real World. The album is a set of Welsh traditional songs radically re-imagined; each pared back as if to find the narrative's emotional root.
Revisited, 9Bach reaffirms that the heart of the band's music is Lisa Jên's beatific vocal talent - the aural reification of a soul enlivened by dreams, places and stories.
This is clearest on the newly recorded, a cappella Trafaeilias y Byd - Cân i AJ, which closes the extended collection, a farewell song dedicated to the band's recently deceased manager, Alan James. Elsewhere Lisa Jên offers a constant melodic focal point for the understated, alchemical soundscapes the musicians surrounding her create.
As well as the atmospheres and moods it holds, 9Bach is of situational interest - if later wide-ranging sonic exploration has partly obscured cultural and geographic anchors, the music can be definitely fixed in a place.
The majestic, swinging guitar chords that shape the opening track Bwthyn Fy Nain sound as if they are reverberating off the slate hard edges of the Ogwen Valley, where are the band are rooted. The song unfolds as a bucolic celebration of living in harmony close to nature; as for all the compositions, the lyrics are Welsh, the natural language of the singers' thoughts and the medium the original folk songs were written in - but, and this underlines 9Bach's creative abilities, there is nothing emotionally inaccessible if you do not understand the words, just as you need not have been to Bethesda to sense the town's character etched deeply in the music.
There are more highlights on 9Bach than any debut deserves.
The plangent, insistent, rhythmic harp of Cariad Cyntaf flows around beautifully harmonising voices.
Llongau Caernarfon is full of yearning, deftly heightening the lyric, which is from the perspective of a young boy who longs to go to sea.
Yr Eneth Ga'dd ei Gwrthod is slow, stately and majestic as it lays out the tragic story of a young girl rejected by her family after falling pregnant out of wedlock, its sad denouement reached when she drowns after fantasising she could be as free as a fish swimming in the river Dyfrdwy.
The album's original final track, Lisa Lân, is punctuated by exuberant electric tangents from a central, winsome acoustic drift.
Each of these songs shows 9Bach's power as a cohesive creative unit.
The new pieces also shine.
The second of the two bonus tracks, joining the sublime Trafaeilias y Byd at the end of the re-issued album, is Cân Dai'r Cantwr - a sketch of softly gothic electronica with a lyric expressing the loss a man about to be deported from Wales for his part in the Rebecca Riots feels as he waits in a Carmarthen prison cell. Cân Dai'r Cantwr underlines how the band has progressed in the last ten years (and also where they might be headed), and yet, as it settles so comfortably with the original set, emphasises how they arrived fully imaginatively formed with their first long-form recording.
Drawing together folk and a myriad of other influences to create something new and coherent was an ambitious project - 9Bach is both the proof of a concept and its magnificent initial realisation. It confirms that one of Britain's most distinctive and important musical collectives started as they meant to go on; spun from deceptively simple elements and the silver thread of Lisa Jên's vocals, 9Bach's music is, and always has been, a weave of liminal, mesmerising emotional colour and texture.
9Bach is still, a decade on from its first release, an enchantment of poetic post-folk.