There’s quite a few different senses and uses of the term “beautiful music”. To some, it identifies an American radio format, to some it’s almost a genre of itself, and to others it describes an attitude towards music-making, a term you might pin to, say, Stevie Wonder’s more form-based 70s works. It is in this sense above all others that Yucatan make “beautiful music”. Whether they want it or not, this group will perhaps forever have won themselves the title “Welsh Sigur Rós”. It’s a label which is, unlike a lot of labels bands that get lumbered with it, pretty accurate. Yucatan make sweeping, epic and cinematic orchestral post-rock and imbued with vocals sung in a strange, beguiling language.
On paper, all the elements are present and correct on this EP, Enlli. The vocals are sufficiently sweeping and angelic, even if it’s been correctly pointed out that they have a very different quality to those of Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós. There are strings, there are resounding drums, the songs are long and superficially ambitious. The craft and technique so readily audible on this record will without doubt win it fans – not unreasonably – but I feel that there’s a possibility that some will mistake quality of mechanics with quality of outcome. Yes, Enlli sounds “beautiful”, but things layered with this much lush orchestration generally do.
Closer listening reveals that the craft on the record, the sheer bombast of its construction, mask musical progressions which are often achingly predictable and which, crucially, lack real sparks of excitement. The reason Yucatan’s Icelandic friends are so often used on TV soundtracks – and among the reasons they are indeed a great band – is because the likes of ‘Hoppípolla’ offer a wondrous thill that makes hairs stand on end. Too often, Yucatan attempt to do this only on a superficial level, making all the right choices of instrumentation but lacking the true core of a truly beautiful song, that elusive kernel of joy they seem to be seeking. Enlli is a worthy effort and an interesting showcase of Welsh music, but it’s not what it sounds like, if you catch my drift.