Welsh band 9Bach sets folk themes to mostly gentle music graced with Lisa Jen’s haunting voice. The title of their second album means something like “to move with a tinkling sound, to ring and make a clear sound,” as Jen explains. The music does that for sure.
The disc opens with thrumming anxiety: In “Lliwia” Jen’s voice floats ethereally above a minor-key track. Like the rest of the album, the song is sung in Welsh, and I would never have guessed this tense-sounding song was about the joy of a new baby.
The tinkling bells of “Llwynog” (“Fox”) seem at first to lead us further into New Age territory, but for the quietly insistent knuckle-knocking percussion. Tiny silent spaces and a strange squirming quality in some of the bell sounds keep things just a little weird, and a wordlessly vocalized passage along with anxious evolution of the simple bass line build into something odd and interesting.
The fantasy-folk tale “Pebyll” has a more easygoing sound that nonetheless carries a fair share of emotion. Its melodies and progressions remind me a little of Annie Haslam’s old Renaissance. “Plentyn” channels Lori Anderson’s classic “O Superman” among echoes of minimalism as Jen sings an awful story about a child-snatching. The song develops into an arrangement of muted tension beneath a simple, pretty melody before it resolves into a slow, wordless, rumbling ritualistic-sounding rave-up of despair.
The Welsh language aside, the solemn “Wedi Torri” (“It’s Broken”) feels more like Eastern European folk with a touch of Jefferson Airplane than anything out of the British Isles. The high soprano harmony in the too-monotonous version of the Welsh folk song “Pa Le?” calls to mind the Tori Amos sound, but the plinking notes of the Welsh harp take us securely back into folk territory. It’s at this point where it feels to me as if the group’s musical creativity starts to peter out. The presence of the Penrhyn Male Voice Choir distinguishes “Ffarwel” and makes me imagine for a minute or two that I’m in an old cathedral or abbey in Wales (St. David’s? Tintern Abbey before its ruin?). The chorus sounds rich and deep and fabulous. Still it doesn’t make the composition itself more than modestly engaging, and the song goes on too long. This may be a case of a modern trance- and dub-influenced band relying too much on sound characteristics at the expense of song.
“Llwybrau” in turn showcases the fluttery beauty of Jen’s wonderful voice without transporting me, and “Asteri Mou,” inspired by her Greek heritage, seems to content itself with mere prettiness and a kind of self-conscious subtlety. However, the a capella harmonies of “Babi’r Eirlys” (“Snowdrop Baby”) make an effective change and result in a measure of subtle beauty.
Jen’s voice is a treasure and the band’s citizen-of-the-world sensibility feeds its art generously. The best of this collection takes the intent listener to distant places in the world and in the mind.