Le Kov is populated by breezy, psychedelic pop music.
If cooing along competently to your favorite pop tunes is a pleasurable pastime, engaging with the new album from former Pipettes singer-songwriter Gwenno Saunders is going to require a Duolingo subscription. Y Dydd Olaf, her first solo LP, was sung primarily in her native Welsh, but this follow-up, Le Kov (“a place of memory”), is entirely recited in another Brittonic tongue, Cornish.
On her debut, choosing to sing in Welsh was a more overtly political creative decision, but that through-line continues here, as her latest is something of a protest to the British government cutting funding towards the preservation of Cornish. While the motivation is defiant, the execution is surprisingly charming and rarely severe. For every track interacting with relevant elements of history (like “Tir Ha Mor,” which dramatizes the life of Cornish painter Peter Lanyon), there’s another bordering on the absurd (“Eus Keus?” translates to “is there cheese?”).
It’s not hard to imagine a class using Le Kov as an entry point into a dying language currently with fewer than 500 native speakers, with each song offering insight into the etymology of an old phrase or a piece of culture in danger of being forgotten. But this is still a pop album. Whether or not the average listener will want to dive deep into translations of every single song lyric remains to be seen, but luckily, this is a collection of songs that don’t seem to require bilingualism to be enjoyed.
For the most part, Le Kov is populated by breezy, psychedelic pop music with melodies that would buoy phrasing from any native tongue. As fascinating as its origins and implications may be to some, it is first and foremost a hypnotic listening experience, with songs bleeding into one another through various iterations of woozy, alluring structures and hooks. It’s not easy to engage with Gwenno’s lyricism without some digital digging and research work, but the songwriting itself is hard to argue with.
You may not know that “Jynn-amontya” is a playful romance between a personal computer and its amorous user without some casual Google-fu, but skipping that due diligence isn’t going to interfere with the spell the song will cast upon you regardless. Like most songs on the album, it begs to be listened to on vinyl, on a lazy Sunday, body splayed on a particularly comfy couch as the room is filled with analog production touches and gentle textures.
Many of the artists Gwenno namechecks as influences are the same pop-cultural touchstones other reviewers are using for shorthand to encapsulate her sound, but as much kinship as she shares with Broadcast or Portishead, with this album she’s cemented a space for herself in the current musical landscape that few others so capably dwell in. With Le Kov, Gwenno is making undeniably addictive music for folks who love to chill, but it’s threaded with ornate sociocultural minutiae and is lovingly orchestrated to be received as something grander than itself. It’s fascinating to hear pop music have its cake and eat it, too—to be at once passively consumable and utterly aching to be pored over.