Saturday, March 1, 2008

Everyday is Like Sunday, Except for Blue Monday and Ruby Tuesday, and...Well, Friday I'm in Love: Weekly Mix #6

In honour of St. David's Day today, my weekly mix will be strictly Welsh. Those who know me know that I have a fairly bizarre obsession with Wales - I'm not remotely Welsh in origin. I explained my affinity for the Welsh in a blog I wrote last year:

Yes, my favourite band is the Manic Street Preachers, who are Welsh and sing about many a thing Welsh, and perhaps they were the ones to raise my awareness of Welsh politics, history and culture, but they raised my awareness of many other more general things. There was no need for me to read three books on Welsh history because I like the Manics, but I did.

But what I found was a nation struggling with its own sense of nationalism and identity as it was relegated to the outskirts of British, and to some extent international, consciousness. You tell people you're going to Wales and they often look a bit confused, but if you say England, Scotland or Ireland, they will nod approvingly and their eyes light up with recognition. There are generally no travel books devoted to Wales (Ireland and Scotland often get their own or at the very least are paired up in their own book) and several broader guides refer to Wales as England's unloved backyard. It's a shame because the Welsh landscape is probably the most spectacular in the British Isles and its history is incredibly interesting; however, their preoccupation with the past is probably regarded by some Welsh as nostalgia gone wild and an unhealthy impulse. And there again, is further evidence of a national identity crisis, but one that almost seems a bit atypical (when have Canadians wondered if perhaps dwelling on their history was a bad idea or counterproductive?).

There hasn't been much of a rebellion in Wales since the days of Owain Glwndwr unless you count various revolutionary-type acts like the Rebecca Rioters and the miners' strikes, but these acts in themselves just seem so noble and anti-establishment that I can't help but love them (not to mention the idea of men riding around in dresses destroying things is the perfect type of subversion for me). The working class socialist mentality that has formed a large part of the Welsh identity strikes a chord with me. I want to fight the Man, but never quite succeed. But, hey, that's when you produce your best art, right?

And so Wales remains in a bit of a tough spot. Unlike Ireland, Wales hasn't really resorted to extreme violence in order to break free, and I don't think they really should - it somehow doesn't fit with their character. Despite Plaid Cymru and the Free Wales Army (sadly the object of some ridicule), Wales just doesn't seem to have that much of a strong push on a difficult path to national realization. They have a national assembly now (a relatively recent occurrence), but it is essentially governed by Downing Street. They have tried to get Welsh back in schools to keep it alive, and I hope that their efforts aren't in vain. I would like Wales to find its way in spite of anglicization and its further exploitation at the hands of the English (first rape their land, then retire there). But the cynic in me also thinks there's just been too much bleeding and blending over Offa's Dyke to force a real separation. Then again, maybe the road to national identity doesn't need an official separation. Maybe in some way, I identify with being an underdog or an outsider and with a bit of the bitterness of being an unacknowledged appendage attached to a cocky empire (it frightens me to think we could someday become an American colony).

One observation I didn't make at the time was the Welsh connection to music, and it's a strong one. From their history of the pipe and the harp right through to some of the most renowned male choirs in the world, Wales is a poetic, lyrical nation of music. Granted, Wales is often known around the world for producing singers like Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, and Bonnie Tyler, and the viola-playing Welshman, John Cale of The Velvet Underground fame, but when you look a little deeper, you'll find the likes of the twee, Peels-approved Melys; the psychedelic Super Furry Animals; the gentle, quirky folk of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci; the sweet C86 goodness of The Darling Buds; the political scattershot of Mclusky; the distinctive childish rasp of Cerys Matthews; and of course, the always meaningful rock of the Manics. The Welsh music scene continues to grow with singers from some of the older guard either doing solo projects or going solo (Euros Childs, Gruff Rhys, Cerys Matthews, James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire) or new bands rising from the ashes of older ones (Future of the Left is the phoenix of Mclusky and Jarcrew) to brand new bands like The Donde Stars (melancholy, anthemic melodies), The Victorian English Gentlemens Club (crazy, jerky art rock), Cymbient (reminiscent of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals at their most laidback), People in Planes (passionate indie rock), The Shoplifters (politically-motivated with alternating jangly and heavy guitars), and Los Campesinos! (a band which I initially avoided on account of them being hyped by NME, but which ended up being a bit like a young, Welsh Broken Social Scene, thus surprisingly good). In addition to songs from all of these new bands, I've also included a song by Donde Stars member, Matthew Harris, who sounds like a Ryan Adams from Pontypool.

Missing from this mix are bands I don't like or am relatively indifferent to, such as Lostprophets, Funeral for a Friend, Feeder, and the exceptionally terrible The Automatic (every country has its unfortunate music). I also haven't included anything from new retro-Amy-Winehouse-like singer Duffy because I frankly don't know how I feel about her yet. However, as maligned as they are and as bland as they often are, I've included a track from Stereophonics (it's from their first album, which is the only one I've listened to more than once or twice) - judge as you will. I've included songs in the Welsh language where I could (I reckon it's weird enough that I have several Welsh language songs to choose from) - I think it's a beautiful, strange language, and those who ridicule it deserve to be called a racist by James Dean Bradfield on national television (a particularly amusing interview from about ten years ago, which ended in complete awkward discomfort for the television presenter). This mix is entitled I Love Cymru. And anyone who uses the words "sheepshagger" or "boyo" will have his/her heart taken out with a lovespoon. By a former miner.

Delilah - Tom Jones

Ni Yw Y Byd - Gruff Rhys

December Song - Cymbient

Gewn Ny Gorffen? - Gorky's Zygotic Mynci

The Sound of America - Matthew Harris

Hi Mewn Socasu - Euros Childs

Dazed, Beautiful and Bruised - Catatonia

Difywyd - Melys

You Can Keep the Kids - The Donde Stars

The Other Night - The Darling Buds

We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives! - Los Campesinos!

The Ballad of Tom Jones - Space and Cerys Matthews

Paris 1919 - John Cale

Gettin', Havin' and Holdin' - Scritti Politti

A Thousand Trees - Stereophonics

Lazer Beam - Super Furry Animals

Pretty Buildings - People in Planes

Rusty James (Live) - The Shoplifters

Die in the Summertime - Manic Street Preachers

Forget Him, I'm Mint - Mclusky

Suddenly It's a Folk Song - Future of the Left

Ban the Gin - The Victorian English Gentlemens Club

Derek Jarman's Garden - Nicky Wire

Weekly Mix #6 (Megaupload)