This enchanting and deeply felt piece of work looks set to give Cornish culture another shot in the arm, showcasing as it does the language’s attractive contours
Before techno fans get too excited, Gwenno Saunders’ third album is emphatically not a concept work around a legendary Berlin nightclub. Instead, the title ‘tresor’ represents the Cornish word for ‘treasure’, and accurately reflects the music found within. Her second album to be sung almost entirely in Cornish, it is an exploration of the female perspective, inspired by women writers and in particular the Cornish language poet Phoebe Proctor.
As with previous record Le Kov, Tresor requires no special interpretative powers on the part of the listener – the music speaks clearly for itself. The Cornish language has an enchanting and mystical effect on record, especially when matched with the music, which Gwenno perfected with her co-producer and partner Rhys Edwards.
Musically, the record feels like a celebration, not just of motherhood but of the great outdoors. Recorded in St Ives prior to lockdown and then completed in Cardiff, its sweeping textures, colourful orchestration and folk-infused melodies feel rooted on the exposed coastlines of the English west coast. Beneath these natural wonders, however, there are pressing internal dialogues and political concerns.
The intimacy of motherhood and its conflicting emotions are palpable, as are increasingly fraught political concerns. The one track to be recorded in Welsh, N.Y.C.A.W., is indicative of this multi-layered approach. Standing for Nid yw Cymru ar Werth (translating as Wales Is Not For Sale), it is a protest song against economic disparity. The music has a loping gait, and ends with a particularly beautiful guitar prologue, but its sentiments are made crystal clear through Gwenno’s direct vocal.
Musically, Tresor often feels like a dream sequence. The heat-soaked Anima finds that feverish state of having a nap in the heat of a summer afternoon, with clarinet timbres and electronics burbling in the middle ground beneath the soothing vocal. The chorus of the title song is marked by a peal of bell-like sounds descending from the heights, while the verse draws comparisons with the best Broadcast songs. Keltek and Tonnow are both beauties, the latter a soft contemplation against ticking percussion with a spacious backdrop. More familiar Krautrock influences make themselves known on Ardamm, an extended track hanging its coat on a fruitful bassline hook, driving forward against the spoken word above.
The folk influences are most keenly felt in Kan Me (May Song) and An Stevel Nowydh. This begins with a startling but thrilling upward sweep on a zither-like instrument, then is punctuated with motifs evoking seabirds diving into the frothy coastal waters.
This enchanting and deeply felt piece of work marks Gwenno out once again as a unique artist with much to say. It looks set to give Cornish culture another shot in the arm, showcasing as it does the language’s attractive contours. As the shimmering Porth la takes its leave, with church bells chiming to indicate the end of the dream sequence, Tresor has left a lasting mark.