9Bach's new album is called Anian -- a soulful, brooding record whose songs take a critical look at the world in which we live.
Anian is a Welsh word meaning nature, the natural order, natural morality, the natural world, creation. What you are made of, your soul and bones, and how you connect with other people.
The double-CD package includes the unique companion piece Yn dy lais / In your voice, wherein writers, actors, poets, and singers - Peter Gabriel, Maxine Peake and Rhys Ifans among them - give their own interpretations of the songs as a way to convey their meanings to a non-Welsh speaking audience.
Anian is 9Bach's third album. Like 2014's Tincian it begins in North Wales, but broadens out through Greek and Near Eastern influences into an emotional tour de force. Angry, sad, but most of all passionate at the state of the world, the album taps into a truly universal language.
While Tincian was very much rooted in hiraeth, the scarred past of the mountainous mining landscape of the Ogwen Valley, North Wales, Anian looks outwards into the present. As singer, composer and pianist Lisa Jên explains, it comes from a desperate, anarchic place. "It marks where I'm at, whether it's my age, being a mother, or simply being much more exposed to social media where I'm faced with pictures and videos, images and words which I find difficult to cope with right now."
Photography: Dewi Glyn Jones.
The eleven songs move from the rolling rhythms of Llyn Du to the piano settings of If an and Deryn, the layered voices of Brain and Si Hwi Hwi to the full band, Near Eastern climax of Cyfaddefa. At the centre is always Lisa Jên's voice, and the instinctive way in which 9Bach work together.
"The songs always start with the vocal melody," says Martin Hoyland. "Then it's my job to build the instrumentation and arrangements around that, and to complement it as much as possible."
Photography: York Tillyer.
Appearances are deceptive. Beneath the crystalline surface of Anian lie raging emotions. "I can't write a song about nothing,' stresses Lisa. "It has to have a heartbeat. I am trying to challenge the listener, whether it's making them feel left out because they don't have a crow that brings them gifts, or scowling at them for killing the last living white rhino."
Photography: York Tillyer.
There is a dystopian feel to this album; its underlying themes are dark and heavy, prompting the question: who am I and what am I doing to help anyone? But there is also hope in the songs, a celebration of relationships and acts of kindness that bring happiness. "There is a seed in my belly, it feels revolutionary, it feels like there is a movement where our generation just might be waking up from a very long deep sleep," explains Lisa. "Something has to change though, right?"
Photography: York Tillyer.
Anian was recorded at Real World Studios by Lisa Jên (vocals, piano), Martin Hoyland (guitars, hammer dulcimer), Ali Byworth (drums & percussion), Dan Swain (electric bass guitar & double bass), Esyllt Glyn Jones (harp, vocals), and Mirain Roberts (piano, vocals, hammer dulcimer). This is the same line-up as recorded Tincian, but, as Martin explains, it was a very different experience. "We did have a general plan of what we wanted beforehand, but the way we work means it doesn't always work out like that." The loose blueprint was to develop those stunning three-part harmonies, and then to introduce instruments they hadn't used before, like hammer dulcimer and double bass. Perhaps surprisingly, Martin reveals they had intended to make a more upbeat album, but soon realised this wasn't going to work: "There was just no way we were going to make upbeat versions of Deryn, Ifan, or Ambell Hiraeth. The subject matter is far too brooding."
Photography: York Tillyer.
Recording live in the studio, with just a touch of overdubbing, the musicians were able to respond to each other emotionally, to react to the anger and sadness in some of the songs, with the band responding to the vocals and vice versa. "A big part of what we do is to convey sentiment, feeling, emotion in the sound, especially for a non-Welsh language audience, so it made total sense to capture that together," says Martin.
Notes On The Songs by Lisa Jên
Llyn Du (Black Lake):
Imagine Cwm Idwal lake, or Ogwen lake on a moonlit night. You might come across this deranged and damaged queen under the black shimmering ice cold water. Based on the book 'One Moonlit Night' by Caradog Prichard, a novel that had a great affect on me when I was young and still remains my favourite ever Welsh novel.
Anian (Spirit/ Genius/ Anima):
A song about a connection to a place. A connection to someone. A laughter or a quality and characteristic that strikes you and leaves you breathless. We need to start looking, start feeling things. Feel it in your belly, feel it in your genitals... just feel!
A song inspired by a photo of Sudan - the last male white rhino - written from the perspective of a poacher. I'm questioning what kind of person wants to destroy such an amazing thing, has pleasure in planting their dagger in leathery skin and enjoys the last glimmer in their eye. I love singing this song, it makes me angry!
This is a true story about Ivan Mishukov, a little boy who left his unhappy home and was adopted by a pack of wild dogs in Moscow. He was finally captured by the authorities, and this song is about the poignant moment when the boy and the dog are separated, never to see each other again. He is the saddest he has ever been, he didn't want rescuing. Inspired by a play by Hattie Naylor, 'Ivan and the Dogs'.
Si Hwi Hwi:
This is an old Welsh folk song. A man from Blaenau Ffestiniog emigrated to America in the 1850s and as a response to the injustices of the slave trade, he wrote this poem. It's an amazing anti-slavery song, from the perspective of a black woman, who is singing to her child on their last night together before the baby will be killed and she will be bound in chains.
Cyfaddefa (An Admission):
This is influenced by Greek Rembetika songs from the Greek Underworld. The opium-smoking, dark, underground, dirty, dangerous bars where the musicians would sing songs about poverty, love, social injustice, the fights of the labouring class and the freedom of Greeks from fascists of all kinds. In the song I imagine I'm imprisoned. I'm pleading for help before realising bitterly, as everyone ignores me, that we are all guilty.
Written from a perspective of a crow, not that you know it even if you can speak Welsh. It's cryptic and not one mention of black feathers and mean eyes! The crow is pleading for the child to accept the gifts he brings. He's excited as he's learnt her body language and patterns. He lives for her happiness. This is a positive song, celebrating a partnership and relationship and love that is shared.
Heno is a lament for the dying of the Welsh nation, with words by Gerallt Lloyd Owen - my favourite poet, who died recently. We have deconstructed Cerdd Dant - a unique Welsh tradition of singing lyrics over a harp accompaniment. Our take on it was to actually sing the harp part, and harmonize the melody so that it has soul - I hope. I am proud of what Mirain and I have done with this: we've messed up the rules!
Deryn (The Bird):
The dying human is left in an apocalyptic world. She asks an imaginary bird to go to the world and say sorry.
Ambell Hiraeth (Homesickness):
A combination of three Welsh folk songs that I've mashed into one. It's melancholic and talks about being ready for the grave. There is hiraeth for a person and hiraeth for a place. There is appreciation for music and song that is a balm to the soul, a little hope. Then there is heartache and a gesture of "please save me, my heart will break... I can't live..."
Breuddwd Y Bardd (The Poet's Dream):
A poet's dream, his eyes are slowly closing, and as he sighs and dreams he sees himself as something he never was. In his dreams he hopes. He visualises life as a beautiful and joyful. It is all a fantasy, like life, how real is all of this? The dreamer dreams the dreams of his heart.
Yn Dy Lais: In Your Voice:
As a Welsh language band we've always tried to be inclusive of a non-Welsh speaking audience. We don't see that language in music should be a barrier at all, but it helps if you can have a picture in your mind whilst listening. We came up with this idea to tell the story without giving a literal translation of the song, which would be challenging as many Welsh words don't naturally translate. That is the beauty of language.
This project joins writers, actors, poets and musicians, who were invited to express their own interpretation of a song. We explained what each song was about and the writers were asked to retell the story using the emotion, sentiment, themes, and, sometimes, parts of the original story.
We like the idea of mouth to mouth, so to speak: the passing on of a story. The pieces came through various media, from spoken word and monologue to poem and trail of thought. Yn dy lais / In your voice has become a piece of art in itself, bringing the words off the page and into your thoughts. For anyone who can't understand the Welsh language, these interpretations will paint a picture of the songs from which they are inspired. For Welsh speakers they will, hopefully, add an extra dimension.
- Llyn Du: Written by Chloe Moss, voiced by Maxine Peake
- Anian: Written and voiced by Rhys Ifans
- Yr Olaf: Written by Matthew Glyn Jones, voiced by Siwan Morris
- Ifan: Written by Lucy Kirkwood, voiced by Remy Beasley
- Si Hwi Hwi: Written and voiced by Lou Bennett
- Brain: Written by Manon Steffan Ros, voiced by Bonnie Dobson
- Cyfaddefa: Written by Meltem Arikan, voiced by Pinar Ögün
- Heno: 'Tonight' written and voiced by Aneirin Karadog
- Deryn: 'It's Me' written by Tim Price, voiced by Peter Gabriel
- Ambell Hiraeth: 'Just As' written by Karen Owen, voiced by Iarla Ó Lionáird
- Breuddwyd Y Bardd: Written and voiced by Martin Daws
- Earthily rooted in organic instrumentation. Fronted by Gruff Rhys associate Lisa Jên, whose free, feather-light vocals are part of the appeal, 9Bach are a Welsh language proposition that can easily be enjoyed without understanding the lyrics. Their second album has a downtempo trip hop groove to it, but is also earthily rooted in organic instrumentation. It's late night fare, perhaps to be enjoyed with a pipe of taid's special blend. TheArtsDesk.com
- The musical potpourri 9Bach serve up is a fascinating blend of traditional and unconventional Peter Gabriel's Real World label has been a mainstay of border-breaking global music for more than 25 years. Hardly surprising then, that Anian - the latest album from 9Bach, a relatively recent signing - could do for the Welsh dialect Cymraeg what Ireland's Afro Celt Sound System did for Sean-nos singing. For a language that has its strongest lingering roots in the Middle Ages, the musical potpourri 9Bach serve up is a fascinating blend of traditional and unconventional - from the gentle Si Hwf Hwi to the title track, which opens with a theme straight out of Isaac Hayes' Shaft. Sunday Star Times (New Zealand)
- Anian marks another major step in the evolution of this remarkable band. With Lisa's crystalline vocal at its heart and with the shimmering three-part female harmonies particularly effective on a moving take on the traditional anti-slavery song 'Si Hwy Hwy' and the deconstructed Cerdd Dant of 'Heno', Anian marks another major step in the evolution of this remarkable band. R2 Magazine
- Anian is ground-breaking, folk-shaking, barrier-crossing, risk-taking, trend-setting stuff. 9Bach walk unafraid. At the risk of the overuse of cliches, Anian is ground-breaking, folk-shaking, barrier-crossing, risk-taking, trend-setting stuff. A huge step which confirms the fact that the Welsh are coming. Read the full review here. BrightYoungFolk.com
- Charm and fragile beauty are a persuasive combination, and 9Bach have plentiful supplies of both. Weighty and impressively colourful soundscapes abound, presenting a music often shrouded in a sense of mystery and foreboding... but charm and fragile beauty are a persuasive combination, and 9Bach have plentiful supplies of both. Read the full review here. Guardian Music
- Their harmonies and chiming cadences are to die for Their harmonies and chiming cadences are to die for: a similar fate that becomes many of their balladic characters but it's all done with bewitching charm. Read the full review here. Birmingham Live
- ***** It's an ambitious and involving set that pushes boundaries and opens the door to dark, passionate mediations on nature, human nature and the world that lies strewn between them. Songlines Magazine
- This is music of great intensity and great beauty. The uncompromising Welsh-language delivery is less of a barrier and more of a sensual bonus, but the other half of the equation lies in the music itself, whereby the sound itself conveys sentiment, feeling and emotion in a very special way. Read the full review here. Fatea Magazine
- ...challenging, experimental and a graceful triumph. ...whatever the genre Anian manages to be challenging, experimental and a graceful triumph. Read the full review here. From the Margins
- ...Their less-is-more approach to their instrumentation pays off as handsomely as ever Elsewhere, their less-is-more approach to their instrumentation pays off as handsomely as ever, while also becoming bolder and further ranging. They're a full band, with a range of multi-instrumentalists, but they don't succumb to a kitchen sink approach. Read the full review here. DrownedinSound.com
- Standout tracks are Si Hwi Hwi, a sort of slave lullaby with lovely voice harmonies, the eastern-influenced Cyfaddefa and the a cappella Heno. Largely recorded live, Welsh-language band 9Bach's third album takes simple elements - Lisa Jen's ethereal vocals, piano, bass and percussion - and weaves complex patterns. Opening track Llyn Du sets the pace with an organic, trip-hoppy feel, an atmosphere that lingers before If an - a musing on the true story of a boy raised by a pack of wild dogs - alters the mood with vocal over solo piano and heavier, weirder interludes. Standout tracks are Si Hwi Hwi, a sort of slave lullaby with lovely voice harmonies, the eastern-influenced Cyfaddefa and the a cappella Heno. The overdriven, understated guitar on closer Breuddwyd y Bard is a real treat. The Observer
- When it comes to songwriting, Lisa Jen uses inspiration from the world around her and her latest album called Anian with band 9Bach is no exception. Anian is the Welsh word meaning nature and the new album is a real emotional tour de force. While its predecessor Tincian - which was named Best Album in the Radio 2 Folk Awards - commemorated stories from the past, Lisa Jen says the new album explores contemporary themes, some that have come from amazing stories she has read about. Read the full interview here. Wales Online
- Beautiful Welsh-language folk music The Welsh-language band return with a set dominated by the exquisite vocals of Lisa Jên, who also adds piano and wrote many of the lyrics and melodies. Read the full review here. The Guardian
- **** ...Lisa Jen's voice navigates microtonal wobbles straight out of Piraeus and the drums crash in four minutes in to brew a heady dance. FT Life & Arts
- **** Their previous album, 2014 Tincian, looked back to the hardships of rural life in north Wales, this majestically does away with any hankering for the past. Hell - if they were Scandinavians they would be selling out arenas very soon. MOJO
- Lisa Jęn's ethereal voice still swoops beguilingly over Martin Hoyland's expansive arrangements Lisa Jęn's ethereal voice still swoops beguilingly over Martin Hoyland's expansive arrangements, fusing harps, dulcimers and guitars with dub beats, loops and pounding bass… 'Yr Olaf' sounds like Kate Bush conducting a Druidic ceremony. 7/10. Uncut
- 9Bach perform songs from Anian on BBC Radio 2's The Folk Show Listen from the beginning, featuring the Llyn Du performance. Listen to the interview and tracks Heno and Cyfaddefa. BBC Radio 2 The Folk Show
- ...the defining feature of Anian is its artful beauty ...the defining feature of Anian is its artful beauty. The yin is the gossamer-layered harmony vocals of Lisa Jên, Mirain and Esyllt; the cas- cading other-worldly, kora-like harp; the 9Bachian piano motifs (check out the 9Bach archetype in the apocalyptic apology, Deryn); the beguiling and lucid melodic lines. The yang is Martin's trademark dirty guitar riffs and effects; Dan's pulsing dub bass lines and Ali's intuitive drumming. fRoots
- Dreamy Welsh folksters' third album Lisa Jen is still singing in Welsh but, like Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares before them, 9Bach weave their tales so delicately that telling them in a minority language need not be their commercial death knell. Jen's vocals are beguiling, but behind her lies all sorts of wonder: Cyfaddefa's Eastern-influenced spartan percussion; Heno's almost Enya-like wall of vocals; Llyn Du's cascading choruses. Q Magazine
- Listen to Lisa talk to Bethan Elfyn about the new album on BBC Wales Radio... listen to the interview BBC Radio Wales