It’s about time Wales found a new Voice from the Valleys. Thankfully, Huw Meredydd delivers just that, and without an ill-judged collaboration with Mousse T in sight. Pontypridd’s finest returns for Gathering Dust, a follow up to acclaimed all-Welsh Os Mewn Sŵn – this time humouring those of us slightly less than fluent on the old Cwmraeg with a handful of tracks in English. Yet while this change of tack might make his lyrics more parsable to those south of the Severn, it’s far from necessary. There’s something magical about the Welsh tongue, and Huw M remains at his most alluring when singing in it.
The Perfect Silence, a happily shuffling ditty, kicks things off unassumingly, before sliding into surprising harmonies and chords to catch you off-guard. Already, the lyrics are striking; anyone can thrash out something angry for a break-up record, but few can strike the emotional nerve which Huw M does with his laid-back, comfortable acceptance of post-romantic emptiness. Meanwhile, Hide Behind You is hand-holdingly cute. Simple enough instrumentally, stripped-down and shoe-gazing, it’s still memorable enough to sing along to. Babushka, Wake Me! is more of a gradual arising than a jump out of bed. The rushing scales in the background are vaguely exciting, and the warmth of the horn is pleasant enough, but it lacks the idiosyncrasy and charm of some of the other tracks – specifically, the ones sung in Welsh.
Dyma Lythyr (‘Here’s A Letter’) is simply magical by contrast. Unsettling harmonics on the guitar are soothed by the warm, yet understated harmony of the vocals. Meredydd’s voice blends beautifully with that of Bethan Reynolds. Not that you wouldn’t leave spellbound anyway, but Welsh speakers will also appreciate the beauty of the imagery in the lyrics – translated roughly as “Here’s a letter sealed with gold/ And within, a kiss you’ll find/ I wish I could, for all my worries/ Also seal my heart inside.” Musically, Meredydd reaches the spiccato violin magic of Owen Pallett, without losing the beautiful vocal tone.
It would be shallow to bill Huw M as the male Laura Marling. While the latter brings urgency, Meredydd opts for a more panoramic relaxedness. The tone and harmonies of each are also significantly different. Yet on Ystafelloed Gwag (Empty Rooms), the rippling guitar chords definitely evoke something of the Queen of Folk herself, albeit underscored with alluring zither. Elsewhere, the lilting waltz of Brechdanau Sgwar, modelled on a traditional square-dance, jumps out on irregular beats, floating away on airy, breathy vocals. Be, by contrast, is unburdened by lyrics, exploring a range of gently plodding thuds and soothing hums in an almost choral vocal arrangement.
Gathering Dust is striking, mysterious and achingly beautiful in places. Huw M has proved that he deserves attention. Yet he must also be careful to stay true to his Welsh roots – while this record has no weak tracks, those recorded in English are less remarkable, and more likely to get lost in the hubbub of British folk rock dominating the airwaves and festivals this summer. The alluring pull of his Welsh singing voice, unexpected harmonies and wistful hiraeth, on the other hand, demand that audiences sit up and take note.