Trwbador - Several Wolves (Owlet Music)

Welsh DIY duo's ambitious, frequently inspired second album

Released Aug 10th, 2014 via Owlet Records / By Larissa Wodtke
Trwbador - Several Wolves (Owlet Music) There is a fine tradition of pop music referencing critical theory—for example, Scritti Politti and Gramsci, Manic Street Preachers and Foucault, McCarthy and Marx—especially in the post-punk of the late '70s and early '80s when it seemed every other band had a name that referenced a modernist art movement or a leftist political group.

According to their media release, Welsh duo Trwbador’s second album Several Wolves is inspired by the French philosopher duo Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and their theories of becoming-wolf and becoming-pack. With their concepts of rhizomes, assemblages, bodies without organs, lines of flight, multiplicity, and becoming, Deleuze and Guattari are seemingly infinitely adaptable and applicable in both the academic world and the supposedly less academic realm of popular culture and media—even more so, with the paradigm shift brought by the Internet, mobile technologies, and globalization. Deleuzoguattarian ideas embody non-linearity and a resistance to hierarchical structures, and their work on becoming-wolf is about subjectivity as related to multiplicities, or in other words, the individual as related to a crowd, being both a part and apart at the same time.

Trwbador (Angharad Van Rijswijk and Owain Gwilym) explain their referencing of becoming-wolf by saying that “the album should work as a pack and to understand the message each song would need to be present serving its function to the whole. Each song was written specifically in relation to a personally experienced aspect of the human condition. The themes include evolution, procrastination, dissatisfaction, extinction and distraction.” It’s an ambitious undertaking, and as such, Several Wolves is uneven and perhaps more interesting in theory than in practice.

Van Rijswijk’s vocals are girlish but distant, recalling those of Alison Statton, and you can hear traces of bands like Saint Etienne (“Start Your Car”), Stereolab (“Love and Folly”), The Knife (“Several Wolves”), Hercules & Love Affair (“Longing”), and Kraftwerk (“Co2”), as the album weaves between the oneiric and the unsettling. In almost all cases, they foreground the iterative nature of electronic music and augment it by also repeating minimal lyrics over it.

There are points on the album at which their vision does come to fruition, including the opening cut “Side by Side” and the titular track. Both of these demonstrate the kinds of rhizomatic movements and schizophrenic multiplicity of becoming-wolf; “Side by Side” pushes laterally through delicate lyrical repetition and juxtaposition rather than any sort of conventional progress, and “Several Wolves” features the lyrics “listen to the voice inside yourself, outside your head” over chunky, burbling electronics, capturing the essence of being simultaneously inside and outside the pack, so to speak.

Other parts of the album, like “Breakthrough,” the “hip-harp” single which features the rapping of ESSA aka Yungun, and “Co2,” an intense seven-minute sensory overload, feel profoundly out of place. Whilst I do quite like the latter track, it feels like a vocoder monster born of nuclear fallout and the acid rain of synth sequencers, not the rather glitchy-folk twee found on other tracks, such as “Pictures,” “Come to Me, Tomorrow,” and “Love and Folly.” In fact, I wish that more of the tracks were as bold as “Co2” instead of the less interesting meanders that make up much of the album.

Though Trwbador’s hope was that Several Wolves would act as a pack by holding together as a whole, it fulfills their Deleuzoguattarian objective by doing the opposite. Without a sense of coherence of theme and progression between tracks, they actually form a non-linear, auditory rhizome. It has been suggested that the Deleuzian method of “pick-up,” whereby a person picks up whatever is of interest to her and moves on, is a perfect way to describe the culture of music consumption in the twenty-first century.

Just as Deleuze and Guattari would expect you to drop into their books wherever you choose and take what you like, leaving the rest, many music fans now curate individual songs rather than worry about the wholeness of an entire album. The beauty of choosing Deleuze and Guattari to frame your album is having it both ways. Either way Trwbador comes out looking clever.