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9Bach

9Bach formed in 2005 thanks to a chance meeting between Welsh singer-songwriter Lisa Jên (also known for her collaborative work with Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys)
and English guitarist Martin Hoyland.

With their unmistakable sound of Welsh language vocals shimmering alongside swamp guitar, harp, rhythm section and a subtle use of technology, 9Bach have been widely credited with giving a new voice to Welsh song. Their previous album, Tincian, (also featured on Society of Sound) was described by The Line of Best Fit as “ripped through with transcendence; a brooding melancholy as much as a gossamer dreaminess”, and was voted Best Album at the 2015 BBC Radio 2 Awards by the public.

New album Anian is a soulful, brooding record whose songs take a critical look at the world in which we live. While Tincian commemorated stories from the past, Anian explores more contemporary themes.

Anian: Welsh word meaning nature, the natural order, natural morality, the natural world, creation. What you are made of, your soul and bones, and how you connect with other people.

Music is made for crossing national borders. Written and sung in Welsh (Cymraeg), recorded in England, Anian is 9Bach’s third album. Like 2014’s Tincian - it begins in North Wales but broadens out through Greek and Near Eastern influences into an emotional tour de force. Angry, sad, but most of all passionate at the state of the world, Anian taps into a universal language.

While Tincian was very much rooted in hiraeth, the scarred past of the mountainous mining landscape of the Ogwen Valley, North Wales, Anian looks outwards into the present. As singer, composer and pianist Lisa Jên explains, it comes from a desperate, anarchic place. “It marks where I’m at, whether it’s my age, being a mother, or simply being much more exposed to social media where I’m faced with pictures and videos, images and words which I find difficult to cope with right now.”

The eleven songs move from the rolling rhythms of ‘Llyn Du’ to the piano settings of ‘Ifan’ and ‘Deryn’, the layered voices of ‘Brain’ and ‘Si Hwi Hwi’ to the full band Near Eastern climax of ‘Cyfaddefa’. At the centre is always Lisa Jên’s voice, and the instinctive way in which 9Bach work together. “The songs alway start with the vocal melody,” says Martin Hoyland. “Then it’s my job to build the instrumentation and arrangements around that, and to compliment it as much as possible.”


Appearances are deceptive. Beneath the crystalline surface of Anian lie raging emotions. “I can’t write a song about nothing," stresses Lisa. “It has to have a heartbeat. I am trying to challenge the listener, whether it’s making them feel left out because they don’t have a crow that brings them gifts, or scowling at them for killing the last living white rhino. Metaphorically blaming humans for being horrible.”

There is a dystopian feel to this album, its underlying themes are dark and heavy, prompting the question: who am I and what am I doing to help anyone? But there is also hope in the songs, a celebration of relationships and acts of kindness that bring happiness. “There is a seed in my belly, it feels revolutionary, it feels like there is a movement where our generation just might be waking up from a very long deep sleep,” explains Lisa. “Something has to change though, right?”

Anian was recorded in Real World Studios by Lisa Jên (vocals, piano), Martin Hoyland (guitars, hammer dulcimer), Ali Byworth (drums & percussion), Dan Swain (electric bass guitar & double bass), Esyllt Glyn Jones (harp, vocals), and Mirain Roberts (piano, vocals, hammer dulcimer). The loose blueprint was to develop the band’s trade-mark stunning three part harmonies, and then to introduce instruments they hadn’t used before, like hammer dulcimer and double bass. Perhaps surprisingly, Martin reveals they had intended to make a more upbeat album, but soon realised this wasn’t going to work: “There was just no way we were going to make upbeat versions of “Deryn”, “Ifan”, or “Ambell Hiraeth”. The subject matter is far too brooding.”

Recording live in the studio - with just a touch of overdubbing - the musicians were able to respond to each other emotionally, to react to the anger and sadness in some of the songs, the band responding to the vocals, and vice versa. “A big part of what we do is to convey sentiment, feeling, emotion in the sound, especially for a non-Welsh language audience, so it made total sense to capture that together,” says Martin. “We never want to repeat what we did last time, either in the songwriting or the recording. You always need to move on, challenge yourselves, make it interesting, different.”

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