Plu, the Welsh alt-folk sibling trio, the Welsh alt-folk sibling trio of Elan, Marged and Gwilym Rhys, return with their new album, Tir A Golau, following up 2013’s self-titled debut. Released on the Sbrigyn Ymborth label, with production and engineering duties in the capable hands of Aled Hughes (Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog), the ten tracks retain the ‘live’ feel of their debut but with a more polished sound which presents the band’s delicately structured music in a way which is both accessible yet remains true to their roots in traditional and indie-folk music.
Title track and album opener ‘Tir A Golau’ spotlights the gorgeous close harmony singing of Elan and Marged over some nimble banjo by Gwilym. Interspersed with some delicate glockenspiel fills, the song’s title (which translates into English as ‘Land And Light’) is entirely appropriate for this most evocative sound picture of the endlessly beautiful landscape of Plu’s home territory of Eryri (Snowdonia).
Lyrically, the traditional ‘Ambell I Gân’ describes the inspirational qualities of music and as such is a more than fitting choice. Over Gwilym’s fingerstyle acoustic guitar, Elan and Marged’s harmonies swoop and soar up to the skies, while additional instrumentation from Dafydd Hughes (drums) and Euron Jones (pedal steel) add a quiet power and a hint of Americana.
Plu’s creative decision to opt for a less sparse, ‘live’ approach to the recording of Tir A Golau pays dividends in the multi-layered ‘Byd O Wydr’ (‘World Of Glass’). Building on Gwilym’s rhythmic acoustic guitar, the arrangement introduces keyboards, glockenspiel, electric guitar and bass as the song unfolds to reveal a driving folk-rock number which at times is as reminiscent of 1960s West Coast pop as it is of the corresponding British folk revival. Aled’s clean and restrained production means that the song’s structure is retained and it’d make a great addition to a mixtape for a sunny day when you’ve got all the windows open and the stereo cranked up loud.
‘Dwynwen’ starts as a soft acoustic tune with twinkling glockenspiel and smooth, sustained keyboard chords over which the sugar-sweet harmonies of Elan and Marged float like clouds. I like this song more and more on repeated listenings, it’s soothing and relaxing and I can feel the stresses of the day fall quietly away. Lovely stuff and a definite highlight. The mellow mood is maintained in ‘Ôl Dy Droed’, albeit at a slightly more uptempo pace. Euron’s pedal steel contributions sit well in the mix of this gently-countrified arrangement which also sees Gwilym taking a more upfront role, foregrounding his intricate guitar and adding some nice lower-register vocals to the harmonies.
There’s an intriguing sense of anticipation about ‘Gollwng Gafael’, which seems to hang in the air although it’s structured in a way which sees it building from Gwilym’s strummed, reverbed banjo, adding some immense, slow chords on the bass guitar while Elan and Marged give one of their best performances on the album; their almost telepathic harmonies rising and falling like the breath of a sleeping dragon. The addition of Mari Morgan’s fiddle evokes a rootsier sort of Americana more in keeping with the genre’s traditions in the Appalachian music of the Eastern USA which works really well here.
‘Calon Wen’ (literally, ‘White Heart’) features some almost jazzy changes, although the interplay between Gwilym’s immaculate guitar chords and some rolling, tumbling vocal phrases (counterpointed in Marged’s deft piano fills) add some subtle polyrhythms. Elan’s voice is really upfront here, she’s singing very softly and credit is due to Aled’s skills as an engineer for capturing her exquisitely velvety performance. This is a beautifully nuanced piece which bears repeated listening: it’s a bit of a slow-burner but once it gets under your skin – as it will! – it’s hard not to see it as one of the record’s highlights.
Recorded at Liverpool’s LIPA studios by Robin Llwyd Jones, lead single ‘Arthur’ has a noticeably brighter sound but this isn’t meant as a criticism; rather it shows another side to Plu. Showing influences of both 1960s folk-rock and contemporary indie-folk, without being overwhelmed by either, it has a sassy, strutting feel with Mari’s fiddle adding some edgy textures – I can imagine it translating well into a live setting in clubs and concert venues.
The syncopated rhythms of the gently undulating ‘Simsan’ evoke the summery haze of the golden days of psychedelic pop of the Swinging Sixties, without compromising the trio’s own unique sound, always avoiding pastiche to come up with something quite unique and shimmeringly atmospheric. By contrast, the introspective ‘Hedfan’ brings the album to a stunning close: its sparse instrumentation and lush harmonies remind the listener of Plu’s debut but it’s only with the eruption of the applause of an enthusiastic audience at the song’s end, that you realise you’re hearing a live recording, made during a performance at an intimate venue near the band’s homeground in North Wales. It’s an appetising taster of what the trio can achieve outside the studio environment and a hint that, if you’re able to catch the band playing live, you really should go along.
Tir A Golau more than lives up to its name in its delicate evocation of the endlessly changing beauty of the landscape of the trio’s North Wales home. Plu have created something very special with this understated gem of a record; it’s a compelling album from start to finish, which reaffirms their richly deserved place in the forefront of the vibrant and flourishing Welsh folk music scene.
Tir A Golau is out now
11/06 – Gwyl Werin Gwyr / Gower Folk Festival
25/06 – Gwyl Tosta Festival, Theatr Felinfach
2-3/07 – Tafwyl, Castell Caerdydd / Cardiff Castle
09/07 – Gwyl Nol a Mla’n, Llangrannog
1-7/08 – Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, Y Fenni/Abergavenny