Can an album sound retro, contemporary and futuristic at the same time? Y Dydd Olaf certainly succeeds in doing so. This is a beautiful album of contrasts from start to finish, and is one that demands close attention. As a non-Welsh (or Cornish) speaker (the featured languages for Y Dydd Olaf), it would be easy for me to miss the themes of the album and focus on the sublime warm analogue synths that populate the album. There are elements that remind you of Krautrock, and the work of Delia Derbyshire throughout to savour. Fans of Stereolab and Broadcast will find a lot to like on this album.

Handily the Gwenno website has translations of the lyrics and without further exploration I would not have discovered that this is an overtly political album taking its inspiration (and title) from Owain Owain’s 1976 novel Y Dydd Olaf (The Last day). It’s a long out of print Welsh language book that depicts a dystopian future where the robots have taken over and are busily turning the human race into clones through the use of medication: ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’, the album’s penultimate track, covers this topic. There are references to a patriarchal society, again detailed on the song ‘Patriarchaeth’. The other themes covered across the album (and book) include government-funded media propaganda, cultural control, technology, isolation and the importance of, and threat to, minority languages, all subjects that still have the same relevance today as they did back in the 70s when the book was first published.

Gwenno Saunders has a vast CV, which encompasses being an actor, dancer, session musician, as well as being a former member of The Pipettes. Y Dydd Olaf is her first full solo album and has been given a wider release on Heavenly Records. It was previously released on the Peski Records label in October last year, with its limited release selling out.

The album opens with ‘Chwyldro’ (Revolution). The chorus establishes the lyrical theme of the album with its refrain of “Paid, paid anghofio fod dy galon yn y chwyldro”, which translates as, “Don’t, don’t forget that your heart is in the revolution”. The pulsing repetitive bassline drives the song to each hook-laden chorus.

With the second tune, Patriarchaeth (Patriarchy), the politics of the album are well established and so too the musical motifs. A slightly discordant piano opens ‘Sisial y Môr’ and continues throughout the song. This riff falls away as the chorus delivers the lyric, “Sisial y môr, llong heb angor” (“The whispering sea, a ship without an anchor”).

‘Golau Arall’ is the stand out track and the song that’s received a fair bit of radio play. It translates as ‘Another Light’, and it’s up there with ‘Sisial y Môr’ in the running for my favourite tunes on the album.

For a song that deals with themes of totalitarianism, ‘Stwff’ starts with a sample that sounds like it was lifted from some dystopian movie or Soviet propaganda broadcast. This is as brutal as it gets before the song drifts into the most minimalist tune of the album.

The title track ‘Y Dydd Olaf’ is something of an allegory for modern times, something that the best science fiction has been able to do down the years: “Beth yw’r data tiriogaethol, a gwblhawyd y cynllun gwreiddiol? llawenhawn ym mharhad llwyddiannus ein gormeswyr gogoneddus” (“What is the territorial data, has the original plan been completed”)?

The last day for humanity is marked by their last dance before the robots take over on ‘Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki’: “Der i ddawnsio yn y machlud i donau dibwys a dychrynllyd Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki” (“Come and dance in the sunset to songs which are trivial and alarming Fratolish Hiang Perpeshki”). The apocalypse has never sounded so upbeat.

‘Amser’ is the final track and the lone Cornish tune. For Gwenno this is again a nod to her dual heritage and is based on a poem written by her Cornish father Tim Saunders: “Ma’nn amser ow slynkya dhy vaes” (“The time is slipping away”) is the haunting exhortation that closes the LP.

This is a brilliant concept for an album, and despite its themes Y Dydd OLaf is accessible from the first listen. Whichever way you approach this album there is no doubting that it deserves the wider audience this re-release will bring.

Release Date 24/07/2014 (Heavenly Recordings)

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