BSFA Review – Vector #281
I had been planning to review about Y Dydd Olaf by Gwenno for my editorial this time round but I’ve rapidly came to the conclusion I’m not qualified to write about it. If I wanted to put you off, I would describe it as a folktronica concept album sung in Welsh (and, occasionally, Cornish). But I don’t because it is great. Perhaps more alluring is the fact Y Dydd Olaf (The Last Day) is also the title of a 1976 science fiction novel by Owain Owain, nuclear scientist, poet and Welsh language activist. Alas, as far as I can tell it has never been translated into English. If any members have read a copy, please let me know!
The language barrier for the album initially seemed less insurmountable; a track like ‘Patriarchaeth’ sounds like it should be pretty self-explanatory and Saunders has given some fascinating interviews about where her music is coming from and the seed Owain’s novel has sown. So this gave me hope. And, after all, my favourite science fiction albums are all instrumental. This includes both actual SF soundtracks such as Tron: Legacy by Daft Punk, albums that merely sound like soundtracks such as Tarot Sport by Fuck Buttons.
The sequel to Tron gets a bad rep as just another example of Hollywood cannibalising itself and I can’t in good conscience describe it as a good film but the audio and visual design is stunning and the partnership with Daft Punk is inspired. The opener, ‘Overture’, is pure blockbuster bombast. Hubris clobbered by nemesis, indeed. This then slides into ‘The Grid’ before the sublime ‘Son Of Flynn’, each sketching out SF worlds in less than two minutes each.
Meanwhile ‘Surf Solar’, the opening track of Tarot Sport, is ten and half minutes minutes of escalating, unrestrained sense of wonder. For some reason, it always puts me in mind of space elevators; the optimism and drama of Arthur C Clarke’s The Fountains Of Paradise and gothic destruction of Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds. ‘Surf Solar’ is truly epic and listening to it whilst driving on the motorway is likely to lead to your license being endorsed.
Y Dydd Olaf is a rather different kettle of fish, both for its tone and its use of words. In fact, its surface is remarkably sunny for a dystopia, perhaps not surprising from an artist whose previous outfit was The Pipettes. But I say ‘surface’ since the aforementioned ‘Patriachaeth’ marries a bouncy electro beat and soaring vocals to the following refrain: “Patriarchy, and your soul is under siege”. But I only know that because I looked it up.
As the album progress, the production becomes increasingly harried by robotic noises of the sort that make The Middle Of Nowhere my default ‘bloody hell, the future’s out to get me’ album. There are even pwew-pwew laser noises as ‘Sisial Y Môr’ fades out. But what does it all mean? You can clearly pick up the rejection of purist folk revival and the embrace of a counter-narrative built around industrial heritage; simplistically, a sonic melding of north and south Wales. Still, a lot of context and hence nuance is striped out by my inability to understand the lyrics which means that, unlike the other examples above, I feel like I am missing half the picture.
So I can tell you ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’ is the standout track on the album and I that a big part of why I love it is Saunders’s phrasing but I can’t tell you what she is saying. Interestingly, however, the album comes with an accompanying suite of remixes including a radical re-interpretation of this song by TOY. This howling, violent version is perhaps more accessible for being entirely abstract (though certainly not better).
Despite all this equivocation, I can wholeheartedly recommend the album to you. If you only want to own one Welsh language… well, make it Mwng by Super Furry Animals. If you want to own two, buy Y Dydd Olaf. And I’m sure random music recommendations is exactly why you are a member of the BSFA. Still, this column was certainly less outright ill-conceived that one of my scraped editorial ideas to review the 2013 Tom Cruise film Oblivion based solely on its soundtrack. My notes include such baffling scribbles as “same setting as The Lion King?” and “Morgan Freeman = giant spider” so I think you can probably count yourself lucky.
- Twelve Tomorrows, edited by Bruce Sterling (MIT Technology Review, 2014) – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- Glorious Angels by Justina Robson (Gollancz, 2015) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
- The Bees by Laline Paull (Fourth Estate, 2014) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- Rook Song by Naomi Foyle (Jo Fletcher Books, 2015) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Superposition by David Walton (Pyr, 2015) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
- A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe (Tor, 2015) – Review by Gary Dalkin
- The Madagaskar Plan by Guy Saville (Hodder and Stoughton, 2015) – Reviewed by L J Hurst
- The Empire Of Time by David Wingrove (Del Rey UK, 2014) – Reviewed by Graham Andrews
- The Seventh Miss Hatfield by Anna Caltabiano (Gollancz, 2014) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- Dark Star by Oliver Langmead (Unsung Stories, 2015) – Reviewed by Martin McGrath
- Edge Of Dark by Brenda Cooper (Pyr, 2015) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
- In Dark Service by Stephen Hunt (Gollancz, 2014) – Reviewed by Kerry Dodd
- The Night Mayor by Kim Newman (Titan Books, 2015) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman