New band of the week: CaStLeS (No 132) – psychedelic, shimmery guitars

Welsh indie-pop trio channelling psych, baggy, west coast pop and krautrock

Hometown: Llanrug, north Wales.

The lineup: Dion Hamer (drums, vocals), Cynyr Hamer (vocals, synth, guitar), Calvin Thomas (bass, synth).

The background: CaStLeS are a psychedelic pop trio from a village at the foot of Mount Snowdon and 20 minutes from Portmeirion, the village in Gwynedd where The Prisoner was filmed and where the annual No 6 music festival is held. Patrick McGoohan’s character from that iconic TV series might have made it his life’s ambition to leave, but why would you want to? The three members of CaStLeS like the area so much they interrupted their day jobs to record a concept album about the joys of living there. Titled Fforesteering, it’s a paean to what drummer/singer Dion Hamer calls their “natural playground”, the beautiful countryside of Snowdonia. Its songs are steeped in fresh air and the breathtaking environment that is their back yard: titles on this mostly Welsh-language affair include Ar Agor (Open), Argau (Dam) and Tynnu Tuag At y Diffeithwch (Drawn Towards the Wilderness). As Hamer explains, the songs are in order, and provide a narrative arc, from the first sentence of the opening (title) track to the last sentence of the closing Yno (Canol y Gwyllt). “It’s pretty vague at times, but it definitely tells a story,” he says of the album and its theme of escapism (as opposed to escape).

“You can’t actually escape,” Hamer argues. “You’ve got to pay the bills. This album is about that. It’s more like a daydream: running outside and having a bit of an adventure. It’s to do with escapism. We’re using Snowdonia as a subject, a theme, to put that across.”

The vehicle CaStLeS use to explore that theme is, as we say, psychedelic pop. Sort of. This is light, shimmery guitar music, and the Hamer brothers’ harmonies add to its sense of weightlessness (ironically, third member Calvin Thomas is related to renowned baritone opera tenor Bryn Terfel and yet he is the only one who doesn’t sing in the band). The obvious touchstones are Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and their own brand of warped Welsh indie, but there are also elements of 60s west coast jangle and 70s Cologne motorik. Some songs are a very unlikely (but somehow it works) hybrid of the Byrds and Can, where the gossamer glide of the Byrds’ Draft Morning meets the rhythmic flow motion of Can’s Dizzy Dizzy. The swirling Hammond organ on the title track and the surf guitar and Be My Baby beats here and there confirm their allegiance to the 60s, but it’s not just the famous stuff they’re influenced by – they profess also to love Os Mutantes and the tropicália movement. Sometimes they sound like a baggy Byrds: Ar Agor could be the Stone Roses’ She Bangs the Drums if it had been recorded in the north Wales mountains in 1968.

Actually, Fforesteering was recorded on a 16-track digital machine in a static caravan at guitarist and lead vocalist Cynyr’s home in Ceunant, high up in Snowdonia. Throughout, the Hamer boys’ tones are consistently breezy and they deploy industrial amounts of reverb and delay. The title song is like freakbeat, only less furious. Tynnu Tuag at y Diffeithwch and Ffrwydriadau o Deimladau (Explosions of Feelings) have strange time signatures for what are ostensibly straight indie guitar tunes: despite the conventional building blocks, the end product never ceases to enchant and surprise – which is all you can ask, really. It is simultaneously gentle and powerful.

“When we played at Reading and Leeds this summer just gone, a lot of people said, ‘Ah, your music is strange,’” recalls Dion Hamer. What did they mean? Psych-casualty strange? The fact that he, brother Cynyr and bassist Thomas hold down fairly decent jobs working, respectively, in an art gallery and at a lab testing materials for motorway maintenance probably rule out the latter. Maybe they just divined their openness to unusual combinations of sounds and textures and their discernible fuzzy logic, one that maybe makes them seem weirder and more wayward than they are.

“Not strange, then,” he muses, alighting on a more appropriate alternative. “Maybe the word is ‘different’.”

The buzz: “A kaleidoscopic blend of psych-infused surf rock and west coast-influenced guitar pop.”

The truth: If you like Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s, you’ll love CaStLeS.

Most likely to: Show you magic.

Least likely to: Give a fuck.

What to buy: Fforesteering is out now.

File next to: Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Super Furry Animals, the Byrds, Can.


Ones to watch: Turan, the Luka State, Vaults, Hare Squad, Hajk.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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