The Garth Mountain marks the south-east of the Welsh mining valleys and the north-west of Cardiff, bronze age burial mounds pocking its peak in strange, crumpled formations. It loomed behind Gwenifer Raymond’s house when she grew up, as the guitarist moved from explorations of punk towards folk, traditional music, the blues and beyond.
Raymond’s 2018 debut, You Never Were Much of a Dancer, set alight the ghost of American primitive pioneer John Fahey (one track was a requiem for him, echoing his own for Mississippi John Hurt). Her fingers tangled around her guitar strings in thrilling, intricate patterns. This time, on an album richly influenced by her birth country, she tries to invent a new style: Welsh primitive, she calls it, infused with folk horror, conjuring up coal trains steaming along the foot of her garden and tall, eerie trees, black against the grey sky.
Those expecting Welsh folk styles will be disappointed. Strange Lights’ closest cousin from Cymru is probably Rhodri Davies’ Telyn Rawn album from earlier this year, where his medieval harp’s horsehair strings seemed to seethe and bleed. Raymond’s references are more about mood, beginning with Incantation’s slow, single drum and shaken bells, then a simple, stark guitar line that weaves a menacing spell. Hell for Certain ups the pace, becoming thick, dense and tangled like a Davy Graham raga. Worn Out Blues bends out its sad melody with sighs of both melancholia and terror.
Gwaed am Gwaed (Blood for Blood) most effectively conjures up an ominous landscape, however, driven by a minor-key folk ballad figure that writhes around and over itself, like a mythical creature slithering out of the shadows. Raymond’s similarly fearsome precision often feels both portentous and perfect.
Released on 13 November.
Also out this month
Sam Amidon’s Sam Amidon (Nonesuch) radically reworks traditional songs to which he’s long been drawn, although Leo Abrahams’ light-headed production often lessens their potency. Some work beautifully though, such as Spanish Merchant’s Daughter, a flute soothing itself around Amidon’s earnest vocals. These Feral Lands: Volume 1 by Laura Cannell and Friends (Brawl) is an excellent, exploratory project, weaving personal folklore around Cannell’s shuddering violin improvisations (watch out for Stewart Lee’s Wrekin giant). Our lengthening nights also suit the heavy, warm drones of Ånon Egeland and Mikael Marin’s Farvel, Farvel (Taragot Sounds), an album of Norwegian traditional instrumentals and psalms played on the Hardanger fiddle and five-string viola.