Fewer than a thousand people in the world can speak Cornish. One of them, Gwenno Mererid Saunders, has proven adept at crafting exquisite, exploratory pop music in that particular Brythonic vernacular.
Using Cornish legends of sunken cities as a departure point, Le Kov — which translates to The Place of Memory — strikes reflective tones in a palace of synthesizers and haunted, waterlogged sounds. "Tir Ha Mor" ("Land and Sea") finds Gwenno's voice gliding coolly over a flow of piano, synth, drum and bass; "Eus Keus?" ("Is There Cheese?") has a percolating musical urgency that bubbles into a shimmering vocal hook at the chorus. "Den Heb Taves" lets synth textures waver and expand around a steady drum anchoring, while Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys shows up on "Daromres y n Howl" to offer some dulcet low-end call and response.
Le Kov feels more commanding than 2014's Y Dydd Olaf, where Gwenno revised an obscure Welsh sci-fi novel into a concept album of '80s-tinged ice pop (sung mostly in Welsh; only its closing track was in Cornish). Here, there's a fuller array of sounds at play, and its vision feels more confidently achieved.
Cornish was briefly declared extinct by UNESCO, but the number of speakers, curiously, started to grow: an uptick of learners have helped bring the language back from the brink. Le Kov stands a testament of its vibrancy of expression, and Gwenno's skill in exploring it. Regardless of your ability to speak the language — statistically unlikely! — there are gorgeous, compelling songs to be found here. (Heavenly)