I love the feeling of amazement when a new record unexpectedly ensnares me and carries me away. ‘Bitw’ is that kind of a record. Despite its unassuming home recorded blend of acoustic and electronic instruments and undemonstrative vocals, already the first song hides a huge melody in its guitar lines and an irresistible lo-fi choir.
And the second track ‘Diolch Am Eich Sylwadau, David’ just takes that in its stride and carries on, except the expressive guitar is now commented by an analogue keyboard.
The third song, ‘Love Is Happening!’ exposes a bleeding pop heart that makes me think about something from Postcard Records, although with less youthful energy.
The first five tracks are essentially sung in Welsh and I have no clue what the lyrics are about, but on ‘Honey Milk Salt Miracle’ and onwards everything switches to English, and with lines like “Eating / corpses in your kitchen / might seem short of meaning” I realise that there is more to this than first meets the ear.
The next song with English lyrics is ‘Don’t Get Caught In The Rain’. That injunction also constitutes another catchy refrain, which by now clearly is a hallmark of the album: Everything here is underlined by a memorable melodic hook, making this a big pop album despite the low-key DIY feel of the production and the rather mellow pace throughout.
Although ‘Bitw’ is Gruff ab Arwel’s debut solo album, it is not his first record. He has already made several records as one half of instrumental surf inspired band Y Niwel. Under the Bitw moniker, Gruff has also published an EP of instrumental electronic experimentation – a style that makes a brief return on the track ‘Poen Tyfiant’.
Whereas the original plan seems to have been to self-release ‘Bitw’, fellow Welsh pop artist Cate Le Bon at some point stepped in and recommended it for release on the Joyful Noise White Label Series. She should have a lot of credit for that. I was expecting her recent album ‘Reward’ to be the shiniest Welsh pop thing this spring, and although it is brilliant, I have to say that ‘Bitw’ shines just as strong, although in a somewhat different spectrum of light.
Rather than Le Bon, the combination of fetching songwriting with an experimental attitude is not totally unlike that of her one-time partner Huw Evans, aka H. Hawkline. And he is in fact credited with sleeve artwork and design, so the connection is there.
Bitw, by the way, allegedly is Welsh child-talk for tiny. Like that famous grain of sand in the William Blake poem then…