One factor that is fascinating about exploring the music of a new area is locating what it is about that country, region or city that makes their music unique. Of course with the dawn of the internet, these regional quirks are arguably being diluted down, but somehow some places retain something special, Wales is one such place.
What is it about Welsh music that we love? What is it that somehow gives it the hallmarks of an identity? Is it the linguistic flair, the casting aside of commercial straight-jackets or just the ability to laugh at themselves? It is of course a melting-pot of all the above and more. A lot of the best music coming out of Wales in recent years can, in our opinion, be traced back to one band, Super Furry Animals. Gruff Rhys and co -arguably shaped Welsh music more than any others, their sense of humour, slightly odd-ball anti-commercialism and wonky-pop blueprint, seems to have been both the inspiration and the benchmark for so many Welsh acts to try and achieve. It’s hard to imagine acts like Meilyr Jones and Euros Childs being the same without them.
Another factor that seems key to Welsh-music is an almost stubborn desire to ensure that it remains Welsh. The rise of numerous bi-lingual musicians is vital to the countries music scene retaining its necessary Welshness. Acts like Gwenno, Cate Le Bon and H.Hawkline, have all produced incredible music without having to bow to any trends, indeed their knowledge of language has arguably added to their music, the understanding of language and vocabulary has been crucial to the superb lyricism and playful humour that underpins this music.
Musical identities can easily be lost and it’s so wonderful that Wales is clinging onto its own without resorting to nostalgia. As the world gradually becomes homogeneous, gentrified and to an extent soulless, it’s wonderful that a tiny nation, a country of only just over three million people, is still producing something so wonderfully unique, and so wonderfully Welsh.
Oh Peas! is the stage name of multi-instrumentalist Rosie Smith, who also plays with the likes of Totem Terrors, Trust Fund and Pheenus. For the most part she’s a solo artist in the truest sense doing nearly everything herself, however one track on her latest album does feature the rather impressive talents of Euros Childs.
There’s something delightfully Bedroom DIY pop about the whole record, it almost harks back to a different era when bedroom recordings still sounded like bedrooms, rather than the highly polished efforts many produce now. Casio-keyboards buzz, melodicas wheeze and the percussion sounds like it consists of whatever Rosie could lay her hands upon, whether that’s a drum machine or a wood block. Her use of vocal melodies and expertly delivered vocals are a real star-turn, pitched somewhere between Cate Le Bon and ???
As you may have guessed from the introduction there’s a Welsh connection here, and Oh Peas! is based out of Cardiff. The Welsh Capital is home to over ten percent of the people in Wales, although up until the early 19th century was nothing more than a small town, then the industrial revolution happened, and the importance of ports as a place to transport materials, in Cardiff’s case coal, became apparent. It’s rise was monumental and by 1905 it was a city, and by 1955 the capital city of Wales. Cardiff also has a very fancy, and rather nice, bay area that has been the scene of much rejuvenation in recent years. Famous musical offspring of the city, who we haven’t mentioned already, include Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, and the not quite as famous as the award that’s named after him, Ivor Novello.
Oh Peas! released debut album Shades Of Intolerance back in the summer of 2014, and before the summer was even over had already released a follow up EP, Year Of The Horse. Continuing the prolific vibes there was a new single, Three Hens, back at the turn of the year, and just this month Rosie has released her second album, the rather brilliantly entitled, Difficult Second Chair. The album came out as a joint release between DIY labels Time Of Asking and Diet Pops.
Witty, unique, and very very short, there’s a lot to love about the songs of Oh Peas! It’s easy to look at these crooked-pop snapshots, with their playful instrumentation and off-beat song structures and think you’re dealing with something light-hearted and almost flippant, but beneath the buzzing keyboards and poppy-melodies there’s a darker side to these songs. They’re laced with the same emotive anguish people like Elliot Smith and Angel Olsen captured, they’re not songs for screaming your heart out, or even crying your eyes out, these are songs that capture the true emotions of life, the malaise that can so easily engulf modern living. Take the albums first line of the album, “sausage roll in the glove box on the 201 to Bristol”, it’s simultaneously meaningless and yet possesses so many untold stories, later in the song Rosie notes, “this is the last time we’ll do this”, without ever really explaining what this is, or who this mysterious we are.
The single, Learning To Love You Less, is first and foremost a musical triumph, spoken word vocals sitting atop a backdrop of stop-start post-punk guitar lines, the layered oohing of backing vocals and a personal favourite piece of percussion, the humble wood block. On first listen, it’s intriguing but it’s only with repeated listen the depth of the song unveils itself, Rosie sings, “there’s romance in fear, so much anger in fear, when did you ever get this afraid?” to an unidentified character, before later defiantly noting, “we’ll talk and we’ll not talk, we’ll both feel as good as each other and that’s the nicest thing we’ve ever shared” and then, “I will love you, and I won’t know if you love me”, like all the greatest pop songs, beneath it’s glistening exterior, this is just a very sad song of heartache in a world that doesn’t always work out as you expect.
The album is a constantly shifting delight, each track produced with a fascinating array of musical tricks and flourishes. Euros Childs’ guest appearance on “A” for Effort, somehow lends the track a sort of 1960’s Girl-Group vibe, recalling the likes of The Shangri-Las, as bizarrely Euros himself sounds a little bit like Nico. You Have A Way recalls early Graham Coxon solo records with it’s lo-fi takes on a modern-folk sound, whilst The Warming Affect Of The Sea is an absolutely wonderful instrumental interlude.
We could list almost every track here as a quiet triumph. There’s the superb September, with its metronomic electronic-bleep and heart wrenching tales of, “spending more time on any boy I can remember” where even “this casiotone can only soothe so much, so much of my soul”. There’s Buses which recalls early Waxahatchee as Rosie concludes, “the loneliness of a long distance bus journey is to blame for this song and not me”. Possibly the best might be the final track, OTHEME, all Morse code style pulsing and distant organ sounds playing out an almost mournful melody, it’s like a modern day sea-shanty for the Nokia 3210 Generation, simplistic yet oddly beautiful it’s in many ways the perfect summary of this rather wonderful album Oh Peas! have created.
This sort of lo-fi, DIY, wonky-pop has always been an acquired taste, there’s a reason the underground stays underground; but for those who appreciate The Lovely Eggs and Haiku Salut in equal measure will absolutely love Oh Peas!, just like we do.
Difficult Second Chair is out now via Time Of Asking/Diet Pops. Oh Peas! play Cardiff’s Swn Festival November 7th, before two dates with Euros Childs in December in Bristol and Cardiff.