Review: Llyn Y Cwn ‘Megaliths’

For the artist, field recording can be a tricky business. There you are atop a hillside, capturing the uniquely delicate sound made by the wind brushing through and past the gorse cover, an auditory treasure that you’ve already got a project lined up for. And then… a cheery ‘Hello!’ from a hiker, an Easyjet flight to Marbella overhead, or even equipment user error, and the moment is gone.

Llyn Y Cwn 'Megaliths' Artwork
Llyn Y Cwn ‘Megaliths’ Artwork

Or maybe you’ve painstakingly set up your recording devices within an ancient crypt, solely to document the unusual ambience within, only to find when listening back that nothing tangible makes an appearance in almost two hours of ‘material’. If you do manage to record something useful, how best to integrate it into your work without just ‘tacking it on’?

Thankfully, these issues don’t seem to plague Llyn Y Cwn, the sonic necromancer also known as Ben Powell. His latest offering, Megaliths, bears witness to Powell’s proficiency in using field recordings, sonic treatments, and electronics to create huge, yet intimate soundscapes that invite the listener to partake in unwritten rituals, both ancient and modern. Each of the ten pieces collected here is named for/inspired by/constructed with sounds collected at a prehistoric site; cairns, dolmens, circles and avenues of stone, places, we assume, where the ancestors communed and carried out esoteric rites and rituals, and sometimes, buried their dead.

We begin our prehistoric procession at Bryn Cader Faner (hill of the throne with a flag) and are immediately engulfed in a huge breath-like wave of sound, a wave with a massive low-end undertow. Gentle, lifting drones ably and beautifully communicate the unfeasible sense of closeness and intimacy that many feel at sites such as these. How is it possible that modern experimental electronica can call forth such feelings and connections?

Boscawen Un doesn’t break this spell but promptly adds a layer of a vaguely sinister aura to proceedings through (and I’m guessing here) the sound of the wind and rain blustering through the stone-strewn Kernow landscape. Once again, the album manages this time and time again, evoking the experience of visiting and attempting to connect with these ancient reminders of the rites and ‘religion’ of our foremothers and fathers.

As you’d expect with an album perhaps best described as ‘dark ambient’ or ‘drone’, there’s minimal use of rhythm in the usual parlance. Bryn Celli Ddu uses sounds gathered in the field to construct, piece by piece over the course of six-and-a-half minutes, a hypnotic shuffle that contributes to this being one of the standout pieces of the collection. Having said that, all the tracks on Megaliths are of a piece.

field recordings, sonic treatments, and electronics to create huge, yet intimate soundscapes…

To listen only to one track, to single out one above the others would be like visiting Avebury without walking the Avenue, and visiting Silbury, West Kennet, and The Sanctuary. To really appreciate either experience fully, the explorer, sonic and psycho-geographical, MUST take in all the pieces. C’mon, why would you cheat yourself and not?

Further into our aural adventure, tracks the Pentre Ifan, Avebury use birdsong, sheep talking and other natural sounds that I’m not going to embarrass myself and guess at, to create an atmosphere that serves to ground the listener somehow in a contemporary moment. Once established, this is then underlined and undermined by the treatments applied to those natural sounds.

This exquisitely reminds the listener that the land, and all living things in it, have seen all this before. Some of these stones were erected 5,000 years ago but that’s merely the blink of an eye in the order of all things. Pentre Ifan is a particularly affecting piece with a splintered, crystalline angularity about it that grows out of the stretched and distorted birdsong. If there are any hypnagogic adventurers out there, this might just make an excellent soundtrack to your journeys.

In these days of a democratised and saturated musicscape, it can be difficult for the artist to differentiate themself from their peers/competition/fellow travellers. I think this is especially true of the drone and dark ambient scenes. With Megaliths, Lyn Y Cwn has created something that stands out, something that truly realises its aims, holding the listener throughout the course of the album and transporting them to hilltop, moor, mountain and chalk down, across the land.

Llyn Y Cwn does an extraordinary job of conjuring pieces of art that, in the absence of continuity and written record, enable us (Listener? Experiencer? Congregation?) to immerse ourselves in a sonic landscape where the atavistic imagination can reach back and down, creating authentic rituals tied to the ancient past.

NB. Can I just give a quick shoutout to the Corvids who appear in the track Avebury? They’re always there keeping a cheeky eye on things.

Label: Cold Spring Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Spotify | Instagram

Scribed by: George Green