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LIVE REPORT: 9Bach
Nick Talbot , May 28th, 2014 22:30

Nick Talbot heads to see gloriously unusual Welsh group 9Bach live in Bristol

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Despite the humour with which Lisa Jen introduces 'Lliwiau', the first single from their new album Tincian, and the deep affection the audience displays in return, 9Bach's opening ritual turns the air sinister. A powerful minimalism is achieved by complex instrumentation; the Welsh folk roots that inform Jen's songwriting are stretched and splayed across a six-piece band, and deft arrangement which often involves members switching instruments repeatedly within a single song ensures no sound dominates for more than a handful of bars. A guitar note fades in, augmented with tremelo pedal, then seeps back into the shadows as an an omnichord motif takes its place. A harmonium seethes and rattles a timeless drone; a harp plucks out the last rites of a dying star, and a single piano note carries it into the ether. The only constant is the insistent rhythm section, way down in the engine room, issuing precision-drilled  bass propulsions and map-referenced drum syncopations. Less a band than a miniature orchestra, each member quietly fulfil their musical duties to steer an apparently captain-less ship.

But 9Bach are unafraid to crank the brakes at any time and pull the carpet from beneath our feet. Mesmerised by the sonic fireworks, for one terrifying moment we find ourselves abandoned, staring down into the abyss, but then saved  by the levitational powers of a spectral three-part harmony. This is deeply mysterious stuff; a six-headed Pied Piper with occult intentions, leading us down  passageways and round corners only for us to find the streets empty, the sodium glowing, the band long gone. The myth of the Wild Hunt looms large over 9Bach's music; in the unnerving dark pastoral of Jen's lyrics; in the irresistible urban ghost train-ride of their live performance, and the stark spell left in its wake.

The last decade has witnessed a movement fuelled by craven future-shock; a collective back-turning against the uncertainties of modernity; a sea so overcrowded with animal-themed band names and Wicker Man aesthetics that there is barely enough room to drown in it. Four decades back, when bands embraced the possibilities of musical technology, such Luddite fears would have been unthinkable. Now while acoustic bands dance endlessly backwards round a Maypole of convenient fictions and reassuring pseudo-histories, a comforting dream of rural Albion fantasies, 9Bach are quickly passing them by. Mining genuine Welsh mythology and personal life experiences for themes and imagery, they spin multi-dimensional melodies and vocal incantations over a fearless, forward-thinking rhythm section fuelled on bass music, dub-plate echo chambers and contemporary low end theory.

Journeying through the the hinterlands and back roads of the human condition, destination unknown, the very moment their passengers begin to relax and enjoy the scenery, 9Bach turn the lights out. Don't look down.

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