The much-anticipated collaboration between the Welsh bands Colorama (Carwyn Ellis) and Plu (Elan, Marged and Gwilym Rhys) under the name of Bendith has at last come to fruition with the release of their eponymous first album. It’s an intriguing if seemingly unlikely proposition and I was curious to hear how the combination of Plu’s very rootsy Welsh language folk music and Colorama’s more electronic indie-pop would work, but the key is in the quartet’s shared inspiration – what the PR notes call “the sense of place, family and home” – and the result is the very contemporary-sounding collection of ten songs which make up the album.
The opening Dinas‘ captures the strengths of each of the bands’ styles to create something both familiar and yet completely new. Over a sparsely metronomic electronic rhythm, filled out with undulating harp arpeggios from guest Georgia Ruth Williams, the gorgeous, wordless close-harmony singing of Elan, Marged and Gwilym billow gently above and around this dreamlike evocation of a stifling hot summer’s day.
Mis Mehefin is a more structured song, spotlighting the sweet harmonies of Elan and Marged over a layered backing of fingerstyle acoustic guitar and delicate electronica, interspersed with some well-placed strings. It’s a reflective vibe which somehow simultaneously manages to evoke the cool spaces of empty chapels and 1960s West Coast psychedelia.
Lead single Danybanc was inspired by Carwyn’s school holidays in Carmarthenshire and his fond memories permeate this gentle midtempo song which sits somewhere between vintage rock’n’roll with a Latin-Caribbean influence and woozy Balearic beat. A future jukebox classic in the making and a highlight of the album.
Elan and Marged’s exquisite voices are at the heart of the aptly-titled Angel, a song which wouldn’t have been out of place on Plu’s most recent album, Tir A Golau (read the Folk radio UK here). A beautiful slow drift of a song, full of space and light – forget Americana, this is pure Cymricana at its best!
A short instrumental, the curiously named Ffynnonlefrith (‘Milk Fountains’, anyone?!), provides a brief interlude ahead of Lliwiau, a lilting tune decorated with some wonky schoolroom piano, sugar-sweet harmonies and razor-sharp, electronically enhanced violin. In places, it reminds me vaguely of Zuckerzeit, that classic of 1970’s experimental music by the German band Cluster – quite an achievement! Possessed of a similar wide-eyed charm, not least for its subtle speeding up through the refrains, this is a tune which, despite its tripped out appearance, definitely knows its own mind and is unarguably one of the album’s highlights.
Over a descending chord progression played with intricate sensitivity by Gwilym (fingerstyle acoustic guitar) and washes of emotive strings, the enigmatic Y Gyfrinach weaves its spell. The listener is slowly but surely drawn into a space of bittersweet reverie as Elan’s heartfelt vocals tiptoe through the autumn mists of this gorgeous soundscape.
The slow waltz that is Dan Glo has an almost cinematic feel to it, from the string quartet at its beginning setting a distinctly film noir mood, through its more uptempo main part and the echoes of John Barry-style soundtracks, to its widescreen coda. It’s a top quality display of composing, arranging and performance although, in places, the high-gloss sonic sheen distracts from the song itself. Stick with it, though: as its name suggests, it’s a slow-burner which I warmed to in the end.
Pan O’wn Y Gwanwyn is Bendith’s reworking of a traditional song and the band successfully show due respect to its origins while setting it to a very contemporary arrangement. The tune’s melody is foregrounded, with Elan, Marged and Gwilym’s close harmonies over a steady keyboard drone, interspersed with piano and violin fills, and some rippling harp contributions from Georgia. It’s an unusual combination which works incredibly well; measured and reflective, it creates an aural space in which to lose yourself.
The album closes with its title track, Bendith: a short, meditative instrumental with a slow string arrangement over a solo piano playing a deceptively simple melody over quite a complex chord progression. In many ways, it captures the essence of the project, both nostalgic and futuristic; bringing the listener gently back to earth, it makes the ideal full stop to the record.
The musical vision which informs the project is unusual, to say the least, but the result is a resounding success. The collaboration between Colorama and Plu has clearly been fruitful and it’s to be hoped that there’s more to come from the quartet. Bendith offers a beguiling mix of sounds and styles, effortlessly crossing musical borders to produce something as fresh and breezy as a warm summer’s day.
Bendith is Out Now, order it (CD/Download) via Bandcamp.