Iwan Huws : Pan Fydda Ni'n Symud11.05.2018 : Sbrigyn Ymborth
This is Iwan Huws' first solo album. As frontman of Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog, the band he formed with his two brothers, he has already contributed lead vocals, guitar and keyboards to four LPs. The first of these, 2007's Dawns y Trychfilod, was recorded mostly as a trio and is full of youthful, rattling energy - but the follow up, released three years later, was a different animal.
The band had expanded before delivering the second album, Dyddiau Du, Dyddiau Gwyn and its successor, Draw Dros y Mynydd. On both these records they captured a unique Americana-influenced sound, but with a possible debt to the sculptural sense of space found in Neil Young's best work (they reportedly played a cover of his elegiac Cortez the Killer live around this time) and the muted elegance of bands such as The Cowboy Junkies. Sung in Welsh, tracks such as Y Ffenest, Glaw and Cân y Captain Longau have a universal emotional appeal. It is impossible not to be moved by the hymnal seven minutes of Gan Fy Mod I.
The fourth album, self-produced and imaginatively titled IV, suggested a testing of the genre boundaries the Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog had set themselves. It included a short ambient piece and an endearing stab at euro-pop - and was still 'vibrant, inventive, alive and authentic'. At the heart of all four albums is Iwan's expressive singing voice, one of Wales' most remarkable. His solo album follows the experimental tangents of IV further. It is an unqualified, resonant success.
Recorded at West Wales' Mwnci Studios, Pan Fydda Ni'n Symud is formed around Iwan's vocal, piano and keyboard parts - there's no trademark guitar to hear, but the sound is augmented by talented musical cohorts - including Georgia Ruth (synthesiser and recorder) and Gwion Llewelyn (drums, bass and cornet). It is an album of contrasts and distinct moods.
The opening instrumental Mynd (Picture) is a lovely drum/synth/piano sketch before the skittling keyboard and recorder (!) pop of Mis Mêl. The title track Pan Fydda Ni'n Symud (see below) starts out plaintive before gathering effective, clipped piano momentum, Porthor that follows has an understated, poignant lead-out solo.
After this quartet, Frances '45 is the most experimental piece, and one of the most accomplished - keyboards and layers of almost-at-odds electronic sound and drums compete, with a vocal seeming to float above them. It is the first song of the most engaging section of the album, completed by the six minutes of Guano - which opens with just a piano and Iwan's mournful voice, slowly joined by subtle brass, synthesiser and drums before segueing into a long instrumental section - and Pennsylvania, a short keyboard and vocal essay of yearning.
The album closes with Cul, a faster piece, matching the pace and energy of Mis Mêl, and the final, magnificent composition, Lluniau (below) - doleful harmonica bookending a rich and world worn vocal (that sparks thoughts of John Cale), underpinned by slow, sustained keyboard chords.
Two things make this album distinct. Iwan's vocals are consistently evocative and enthralling, and the emotional textures he finds with keyboard and synth sounds add strata of fascination. The arrangements are superb, the recording clear and grained like highly polished wood. Pan Fydda Ni'n Symud is an exquisite and exhilarating collection of songs, textures and sounds.