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Baby Queens – Baby Queens Review: Personality Over Pop Appeal

Benj Newman reviews the new Baby Queens album

Baby Queens debut album

Cardiff-based Baby Queens are enjoying something of a slow burning, organic raise to public consciousness. Though they’ve been around for a while – they were first featured here on We Are Cardiff in 2014 (Baby Queens Our Cardiff Geography) – they’re now signed to SFA man Cian Ciaran’s Strangetown Records, and this year have been part of the BBC Horizons project, spearheaded by new music champion Bethan Elfyn.

The opening track of their eponymous debut is entitled: ‘Tired of Love’. The title of the track is one that we’ve seen many times in music; before our ears have even been properly aquainted with the record there’s a worry that may just be another nondescript British pop album. However, as soon as the music starts, these worries are allayed; in fact, the first track’s seems like it is deceptively there to catch the listener off guard. The track is layered with an infectious electronic drum loop, the lyrics are consciously lovesick and the production shifts between styles effortlessly; it is a signifier that the album packs no punches both lyrically and sonically. The track is evidence that the self-titled nature of the album isn’t simply out of convenience, it is a declaration of the group’s identity, both philosophically and sonically. With the group getting props from Marinia Diamandis on Twitter to write-ups on The Guardian, they’re certainly on their way to something big and show that Cardiff’s tightly-knit music community is still doing great things.

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The synthesis of synthetic and organic sounds is one of the biggest positives about the album. It is difficult to properly balance these polarising sounds, but Baby Queens have balanced it competently; in fact, they haven’t just found the right balance, they’ve synthesised both sounds creatively. The soft electronic percussion of ‘Hear Me’, for example, pops with the inclusion of the relatively archaic shaker and classic guitar lines. There is an acute awareness throughout the record that the weaving together of opposing sounds leads to a much more pleasing collage of sound. The symbiosis of these two sounds ensures the album’s production stays organic and sonically interesting throughout. It’s difficult not to think of Cardiff when you hear the combination of electronics and natural sound; the electronic production winds around a subtle natural foundation much like the city itself. Cardiff is a city that juxtaposes harshly against a fertile natural landscape; the city is a symbiosis of nature and modernity much like the music it produces. The unique material culture of the city – one that is still grounded in nature despite its metropolitan allure – has been threaded into sonic palette of the record; Cardiff has left an impression on this group, perhaps even unconsciously. The group aren’t afraid to dip their toes into different styles, either, which ensures the album stays stylistically varied.

The album jumps around a few different styles with aplomb. There is a direct trip-hop and pop influence embedded in the album, but it is still stylistically varied. For example, ‘By The River’ veers into a gospel song on points with a strong Americana influence, whereas ‘Forever’ opens with a reggae guitar line and never really threatens to leave the genre for the remainder of the track. There’s always a nice surprises in each track, – like the Aphex Twin-esque drum loop at the end of ‘Forever’ – that keep the listener’s earbuds on the tip of excitement, too. The group’s ability to wind through several complicated genres speaks volumes for their chemistry. Despite foraying into several genres, their harmonies still stay solid and their identity never becomes compromised. The best thing about the album, really, is how the group are so unrelentingly themselves. Leroy’s drumming, too, deserves special mention – it is expertly measured and matured throughout.

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Lyrically, too, the album displays the group’s deceiving depth. Initially, I thought the album was entirely made up of romantic love songs – not that there’s anything wrong with that – but on further listens I found that the album, in a few tracks, deals with much more relevant and complicated issues. The hook in ‘Forever’ can deceive the listener into believing it is a simple love song, but the overall lyrical content points to something more political. For example, the lyric ‘your skin is light, my skin is dark, that does not change the shape of our hearts’ is a plea for egalitarianism in a time of rampant secularism or straight-up racism. Baby Queens seem ready to shake off their ‘girl group’ stereotype by producing lyrical content that is relevant and political. In a time of Brexit, alt-right and all that other nonsense, it’s good to have a group pushing for people to view each other on more human terms. The vibe of the whole track, too, is suited to the times. It is as utopianistic as it is sombre, in a way. The lyrics contrast sharply with the sombreness embedded in the vocals.  Essentially, the track’s contrasts and tonal hypocrisy mirrors contemporary life; the track realises it is a time where relentless positivity is needed, but where the facts of modern life distils this down into sombre well-wishing.

Overall, Baby Queens was a real surprise packed to the brim with personality and risky production choices. It is out now on Strangetown Records– go check it out, you won’t be disappointed (and if you are then I’m prepared for some comment section shadowboxing).

Baby Queens is out now on Strangetown Records. Find out more:

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“Cardiff was a big neon sign pointing towards adventure” – Bethan

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“We took the Porsche down to Tiger Bay,
Drank the pubs dry where bands used to play in their heyday.
Cardiff in the Sun”

– Super Furry Animals

We must’ve been skinny, because there were five of us squashed into a mini metro. We’re driving around Fishguard, recklessly, in Dan’s car. Blaring on the stereo are the Stone Roses. “Send me home like an Elephant Stone, to smash my dream of love, Dreaming till the sun goes down, and night turns into day!” Life is great! I’m a fresh faced minister’s daughter from the mountains of mid Wales and family friend, Daniel Evans, is introducing me to life in the fast lane, and adopting me to the Glantaf gang. Life was about to change. From one weekend out West to hauling life and future from North to South.

These were the kids that made me fall in love with Cardiff, the beautiful, cocky, fun, brazen, colourful, earthy, yes, even hippy, music-breathing kids from Ysgol Glantaf. Unlike anyone I knew back in my home school. At home it was small town clubbing and nosey neighbors (closest friends aside of course), here it was house parties, jamming till dawn, discussing the world, creating art, creating music and this breezy rush of freedom! It was idealistic, naïve, preposterous, yet it was new, it was youth, and it was an awakening.

With these naïve and wide-eyes I saw the city, and felt like I belonged. From boot sales in Splott, to Jacobs market’s spiraling treasure trove. From squeezing into Spillers and bacon butties in the Hayes, to the stretch of vinyl at Kellys – it was riding buses, walking railway tunnels, driving flyovers. It was dressing up retro, it was cherry tobacco, it was the Astoria’s all nighters, or Time Flies’ raves under chandeliers at the City Hall, it was dark and dangerous at The Hippo Club, it was the docks, it was the City Arms, Model Inn and Clwb Ifor Bach combined, it was Marcello from café minuet and the historic arcades. There were rituals and there were parties, oh, there were so many parties. From parties on Penarth beach to fires up the Wenallt, to student kitchens, to famous lock ins – it was a big neon sign pointing towards adventure.

Dan and anyone else from class of ’91, I’ll salute you for bringing me here, making me fall in love with the life you were living, just school kids on the brink of the future, and anything was possible.

My plans to have a gap year in France fell by the wayside as I fell in love with the city and the engrossing music scene. Every weekend was spent at Clwb Ifor Bach, till you knew every name in the building. Weeknights were full of big NME/Melody Maker bands on tour at the Uni like The Charlatans, Primal Scream, Pulp, St Etienne, Catatonia and erm Bjorn Again! I got a job, I was ‘saturday girl’, at Spillers Records. The Newport gigs were kicking off at TJs with 60 ft dolls, Disco, Gauge, Gorky’s and others. When you’re busy living in the moment you don’t quite realize the significance of all this. When venues later close, and legends start to disappear, you regret that photo you didn’t take or that chat you didn’t have, but you’re busy being young and being invincible.

I was in the busy heart of Cool Cymru (a term which we all hated), running around in the veins of the city, and would drive the length and breadth of the UK, to see live bands. A National Express to Sheffield to see Primal Scream and the Orb stadium tour, a club in the Valleys for the famous Splash tour where the Stereophonics supported The Big Leaves, college friend Denis Pasero’s 2cv shakily bombing down the M4 taking us to Y Cnapan festival, being gobsmacked at the SFA’s tank on the Eisteddfod field and the news crews in overdrive about what language they would sing in that night, and the band I stalked the most throughout this time were Gorkys Zygotic Mynci. Sadly, I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen them, but it’s awkward!

The music has changed unrecognizably from the few sweaty venues we used to frequent back in the 90s, but then as now we make our own fun here, it’s a small city with a big creative heart and a tight social community. My friends now, are an amazing crazy bunch of brilliantly talented people, and help me dream the same dream I had on coming here in the first place. Keep finding the adventures in the everyday, live with the wide eyed wonder towards the new, changing and evolving cityscape, and clap my thankful hands at the beautiful sounds* that keep emanating from this small city.

Footnotes

*Astoria = Venue on Queen’s Street where Oasis famously also played in 1994, supported by 60ft dolls. Used to be a massive club, not particularly nice, so this isn’t particularly nostalgic footnote!

*Sounds of Cardiff now. Do check out…
Cate Le Bon, H Hawkline, Sweet Baboo, Islet, Future of the Left, Strange News From Another Star, Samoans, Gruff Rhys, Euros Childs, Jonny, Richard James, The Gentle Good, Hail! the Planes, Le B, Jemma Roper, Saturday’s Kids, Harbour, Hunters, Truckers of Husk, Man Without Country, Houdini Dax, The Method, The Keys, Friends Electric and many many more.

Bethan Elfyn has been broadcasting and reporting across Welsh radio and TV since the late 90s. She started with BBC Radio Cymru in North Wales, working across the board from politics to music; interviewing millionaires, farmers, millionaire farmers, lots of musicians, comedians, drama ‘lovies’, and the highlight of the whole lot a record breaking “human mole”. In 1999, she was chosen to front BBC Radio One’s exclusive new music show for Wales, the Session in Wales, presenting the late night show on BBC Radio One till 2010. The decade was spent firmly ensconed in the UK’s music scene, hosting main stages at festivals across the land from Reading to Greenman, and DJing clubs, student balls, festivals and fashion events. She’s been TV host to The Pop Factory on BBC Wales, Popcorn and Dechrau Canu on S4C, and currently presents on BBC Radio Wales every Saturday night from 5 till 8pm – a show which has seen the cream of the Welsh music crop come in to co-host, from Sir Tom Jones, to James Dean Bradfield, to Cerys Matthews. She currently lives in Riverside.

Bethan was photographed at Kelly’s Records by Adam Chard

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