Saturday, 25 February 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #75 - Yr Ods, "Troi a Throsi"

This is a bit of an uncomfortable listen - for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, I've avoided listening to Yr Ods for a while, because they inspire in me a weird sense of parochial embarrassment. After Cool Cymru was comfortably bedded in my mind the best part of twenty years ago, I think my listening has maybe been a bit selective. Pretty much in the same way it has in English. And Yr Ods I've been a little reluctant to engage with for fear of them being too landfill (neu tirlenwi, os dach chi'n hoffi). But Huw Stephens and Adam Walton seem keen and I watched the last ever edition of the Noughties Welsh language music show, Bandit, last night and they were on and the subtitled lyrics seemed a little darker than I expected.

Secondly, my Welsh is pretty poor and therefore my grasp of the lyrics is even weaker than in English. I can get snatches of words here and there and I can translate the titles; but nothing much more than that. And this bothers me because I feel I'm stumbling around in exactly the same imperialist blankness that I despise in others. Yes, I despise it in ridiculously over-the-top fashion; hence the discomfort with myself as a monolingual human shitsack.

So it could all be my fault. Yet I still cannot escape the suspicion it's all a little too simple. The titles are not inspiring. They sound more than a bit like insipid "Doo Waa Diddy" popwash. And while I take the point that I've heard from Welsh-speaking friends and in interviews with some Welsh-singing songwriters that trite words and ideas can acquire new life in translation from one tongue to another, it doesn't quite make up for the disappointment. Compare a title like "Rhagluniaeth Ysgafn" from Gruff Rhys' debut solo album that was on the same Bandit show, translated into "Light Destiny" and an appeal for his previous behaviour to be taken into account at the end of his days, with "Agor dy Llygaid" ("Open your Eyes"). Yr Ods come off too lightweight.

The tunes also suffer from a post-Arctic Monkeys condition of sounding like some dance band from the early Sixties. I quite like the Monkeys, but this is a baleful influence. It's difficult to imagine how the Shadowsy moptop shuffling beat sound can be absorbed without the bland assumptions that underpinned the bloodless talk of eyes and girls the first time around. Difficult for me at least. I like things a bit more desperate and complicated. And I don't see much of a critical engagement from Yr Ods with this inherited model. (God help me, I'm taking all this very seriously. I'm just looking for an explanation why this is leaving me cold.)

It all starts with a strumming acoustic, which is rarely a good sign. "Paid a gwrando at a y gan" (Don't listen to the song) opens the album with an agreeable indie stomp, though the keyboard sounds tinny; and the title suggests some playfulness - but I can't grab any of the lyrics to substantiate the idea. "Dadansoddi" (Analysis) involves wrestling with something pulling someone away, but I'm not really feeling the Merseybeat background. "Sian" was the track I saw performed on Bandit but without the lyrics in front of me, it slides back into a frustrating pop whimsy. I'm starting to believe that I'm basically too poorly equipped to break down the cultural barriers to get to the meat.

"Dwi'm yn angel" (I'm no angel) has a claustrophobic shiver to it, perhaps I'm helped by the drum machine replacing the infernal head-bobbing Merseybeat. And I can understand that the chorus is "I'm sorry" over and over again while an elegaic noise swells behind. "Agor dy llygaid" is more promising and complex, but then "Cariad" (Darling - I'm unhappy) goes back to the vintage bargain bin and my interest evaporates.

A frustrating album, not least because it highlights my own limitations, but also because I don't understand the love of following a Richard Hawley retrospective path. I understand there's no reason a band comprising members from various towns across Anglesey and Gwynedd shouldn't carry the same influences as a band from Norfolk or Dundee; but I'm still disappointed. Maybe I should give it another go when I've picked up more Welsh. Unless anyone has the lyrics for me to look at?

Rating: I Want Them out of The Sixties Ghetthole

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