GORKY’S ZYGOTIC MYNCI Barafundle (Fontana)

Generalising wildly for a moment, if Super Furry Animals could be glibly stereotyped as the Syd Barretts of the current wave of top Welsh bands then Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci must surely rate as a nineties interpolation of the Incredible String Band. This, their major label debut, demonstrates, even more than its frequently interesting if more often frustrating predecessor "Bwyd Time", that the Gorky’s world of random and beautiful melodic chaos, deliciously skewed imagery and roots suss is a rewarding and enlightening place to be. There will be few more beautiful sounds to escape from a slab of plastic this year than those on "Barafundle", and few albums of 1997 will sound so complete, with every note and idea necessary, none of them outstaying their welcome (some bands would do well to observe the way GZM rattle through sixteen tunes in under fifty minutes). And what other band have ever gathered an armoury of gas tanks (?), violins, jews harps, shawms, flutes, trombones, saxophones, marching horns, trumpets, crumhorns and hurdy gurdies in the same place at the same time before? Like the new SFA album, "Barafundle" is something you have to listen to before appreciating its rich tapestry of delights; words could never come close to describing it. But isn’t that the whole point?


If, as the NME have been asserting recently, the music industry is in a state of crisis, it seems that in these times talent is no guarantee of security. Two weeks after releasing their second album for Fontana, Welsh indie-prog-folksters Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci have been unceremoniously dumped by The Man amidst much dark muttering about being "unwilling to multi-format". I don’t know what’s the more amazing: that Fontana should sign the Gorky’s in the first place (them being, let’s not forget, a band not unknown to relapse into singing in Welsh - not exactly the first language of MTV - for several tracks per album) or that Fontana should express amazement at GZM declining to release the same single two or three times just to scrabble a few more notches towards the torpid twenty.

Oh well. Somewhere in the aftermath of all this idiocy we have the fifth Gorkys album, which of course is probably their most commercial yet, irony of ironies. After last year’s "Barafundle", which was all kaleidoscopic new psychedelia and strangely strange arrangements (sort of an ISB for the 90s), "Gorky 5" sounds, well, chilly, with an atmosphere more normally the preserve of bands such as Portishead, Joy Division maybe, or the last Björk album. It sounds almost as if it was produced under a regime of extreme religious fundamentalism - if you’ve seen Lars Von Trier’s stunning film "Breaking The Waves" and the remote Presbyterian Scottish village it portrays you’ll know what I mean.

Which isn’t to suggest that "Gorky 5" is hard going, more that it’s a barer record, both melodically and in terms of instrumentation, than you may be expecting. There are many fine moments here, ranging from the gorgeos mellow instrumental "Not Yet" to the clog-hopping "Theme From Gorky 5 (Russian Song)", the pedal steel-led pilgrim’s tales of "Only The Sea Makes Sense", the charming colloquialisms of "Hush The Warmth" and the moments when "Softly" seems to mutate into Pink Floyd circa "A Saucerful Of Secrets". It’s just that, initially at least, it may sound a little cold, remote and forboding to you (as may befit an album recorded in the depths of a Monmouthshire winter). But if you get into it, you’ll delight at the works of one of the few contempory bands whose work could honestly, and without fear of simplification, be described as ‘lovely’.

GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI Spanish Dance Troupe (Mantra)

The sixth Gorkys album finds the Welsh band positioned musically somewhere between the kaleidoscopic psychedelia of "Barafundle" and the chilly asceticism that characterised "Gorky 5". Sounding ever more like Super Furry Animals' country cousins, Euros Childs croons wistful tales of love and loss over a backdrop sewn with such un-indie rock instruments as violins and steel guitars. The mood is occasionally jarred by moments of whimsy - the strangeness of "Poodle Rockin'" and "Hair Like Monkey Teeth Like Dog", for example - or outbreaks of ridiculous tunefulness - the title track, cruelly ignored when released as a single, which documents a schoolboy's travels with the eponymous dance troupe during the summer holidays in an attempt to escape from the rainy Welsh weather - but overall "Spanish Dance Troupe" is probably the best album to be wrapped up with in front of a roaring hearth on a cold winter night since the studio half of Cream's "Wheels Of Fire". And Robert Wyatt's partner Alfie Benge provided the artwork, which is probably enough to have some people charging out to buy the album immediately, and a very wise decision that would be too.

GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI The Blue Trees (Mantra)

Barely twenty minutes long, the latest Gorky's outing is a tiny slice of acoustic wondrousness, eight tracks of what can only be described as folk music. Imagine Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" with all the autumnal gloom, despondency and fronds of psychosis torn out and replaced by the green shoots of blissful, springtime childhood memories (the sleevenotes are diary extracts written by producer Gorwel Owen as a nine year old) and mediaeval pageantry. Utterly charming and totally timeless, "The Blue Trees" is another fine entry in Gorky's rapidly expanding portfolio.

GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart (Mantra)

Following last year's acoustic day trip "The Blue Trees" Gorky's Zygotic Mynci are back up to full strength for their latest long player, and rather predictably it's lovely. "How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart" features a dozen tracks of their barely-categorisable golden brown honeyed Celtic melding of folk, psychedelia and country music, and it's practically impossible to pick highlights. The whole album flows in such a gorgeous, well-tempered fashion that it seems a cruelty to poke around under the bonnet in an attempt to separate the myriad disparate strands that make up the Gorky sound. Certainly these songs sound a lot more comfortable on record than when I first encountered them during their Manic Street Preachers support slot this summer. It might also be worth noting the presence of stray Teenage Fanclub member Norman Blake on a couple of tracks. If you ever thought you might enjoy the music of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, this lovely album is another reason to trust your instincts.

GORKY'S ZYGOTIC MYNCI Sleep/Holiday (Sanctuary)

Another album from the Welsh folk-psychedelecists already (has it really been two years since their last, "How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart"? Apparently so.) and their first for Castle subsidiary Sanctuary, who, in scooping up great swathes of talent offloaded or neglected by major labels, appear to be enjoying a mini-equivalent of the status afforded Geffen 20 years ago.

The songs on "Sleep/Holiday", like most Gorky's albums, sound timeless, as if they've been swimming around happily in the aural ether for centuries, only now gone to earth, channelled through the band's warm, wafting music. As charming as ever, tumbling over with tunes and good intentions, it's melodic, effortless, densely meshed but not astonishingly memorable - little on this album sounds as if it was fighting to be made.

There's more than enough loveliness here, of course: the opening piano strokes of "Waking For Winter" are pure "Barafundle", and the traditional token silly song, "Mow The Lawn", is a pastoral glam nursery rhyme that entertains without getting its hooks in you. The country lament "Single To Fairwater" smuggles in a biting payoff, and the nine minute "Pretty As A Bee" is the album's most experimental offering, long church mouse organ notes introducing a slow-to-no-moving near-ambient piece. The mossy melancholy of "Red Rocks" also delights, although arguably the late afternoon languor of the lyrics could have benefitted from some more memorable music to serve it justice.

So, "Sleep/Holiday" is another expertly crafted Gorky's Zygotic Mynci album, cut practically to the same template as birthed "Spanish Dance Troupe" and "How I Long To Feel That Summer In My Heart". Is it damning the band with faint praise to criticise them for being so consistent, for being so utterly themselves? Whatever, "Sleep/Holiday" is another pleasant amble through the band's friendly soundworld, although maybe that isn't quite enough anymore.

Manic Street Preachers/Gorky's Zygotic Mynci Cardiff Arena 23 August 2001