If you had only Welsh indie music as a guide (if you were Kasper Hauser or something) you would be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled out of your cave right into the middle of 1968. This is no bad thing, of course, but it is a phenomenon, a play-within-a-play from the show that is the global music industry’s nostalgia season. But this year alone, look at Meilyr Jones, Cate le Bon, Gwenno, Georgia Ruth and plenty of others, and it could be argued that the Welsh music scene is currently awash with the sound of nostalgia. From Talking Heads, to Sandy Denny, to the Velvet Underground, to Harmonia and Brian Eno, the Welsh scene is producing great music right now that wears its influences on its collective sleeves.
To this mention above, we can now add a new band, a band who should be a welcomed noise for those who miss the West Coast vibe but have grown to need a slight European twist with their joss sticks.
North Walian trio CaStLeS have the nostalgia thing down to a fine art; their debut album is a clearly signposted tour of forty years of psychedelic pop and rock, stopping at all the familiar landmarks along the way, with a few welcomed obscurities thrown in for good measure. Once a reviewer has got passed the initial hatred of a band who forces you to alternate between lower and upper case letters whenever you have to type their name, there is actually much to enjoy and much to pick out. Press releases, as is frequently the case, will drop some names-as-influences, the elevator pitch, to give you a flavor and raise an eyebrow, and although Foresteering is perhaps lacking in Morricone, it does have the touch of Os Mutantes. Perhaps there has been something emerging over the decades that will one day be known as “Welsh Psychedelia” – it has always been a popular form of expression going back as far as Man’s 2oz of Plastic with Hole in the Middle in 1968. This is West Coast, but with a languid celtic feel to it, a mysticism and grit that replaces the blues rock root. Foresteering sounds like so much of this stuff that has gone before, and yet it has its own feel to it as well. It is psychedelic, and it absolutely reeks of Super Furry Animals, but it is also mountain music, bleary, vague, slovenly euphoric, like a kind of Polyphonic Traffic.
Various stories come with the album. That it was recorded on a 16-track digital recorder inside a static caravan in Ceunant (PR-folk need to learn that in this day and age shabby-chic origin myths are not quite as impressive as they might think). But there is no denying there is a mossy-ness to the record – it is damp with Snodownian drizzle, and the one thing CaStLeS cannot be accused of is producing an album that lacks a unified atmosphere.
The title track curves an alluring forefinger with its Hammond organ, encourages you in through the beaded curtain to a thoroughly well-executed record, in equal turns upbeat and head-in-the-clouds. And in the clouds, arms spread, is where the sound is at its best – there is a lovely loose driving loop on “Tynnu Tuag At Y Diffeithwch”. There is in places an underbelly of Krautrock, a touch of Can for sure, but these moments, such as the bridge on “Ar Agor” never really stick. At the lowest ebbs The Byrds are never far away, and at its finest moments you feel as though it may break into something truly elegiac such as what you might find on the new King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard album. But in the end Foresteering floats somewhere in between.