Neon Neon Neon Neon… So good they named them etc

Gruff Rhys: A chronological playlist

Published on February 19th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams

The second Neon Neon album Praxis Makes Perfect is almost upon us, and here at Rocksucker we just can’t contain our excitement. As such, here is a chronological playlist showcasing the considerable talents of Gruff Rhys, one half of the operation alongside producer Boom Bip…

Ffa Coffi Pawb – “Valium” (from 1988 LP Dalec Peilon)

Before Super Furry Animals, Rhys was the front man of a group whose name translates literally as “Everybody’s Coffee Beans” and phonetically as “Fuck Off Everybody”. You can find this hazy charge on the utterly splendid Ffa Coffi Pawb retrospective Am Byth, which was packaged with actual coffee beans inside the spine of the CD case and is replete with shining early examples of what we journo types like to describe as “a prodigious songwriting talent”…

Super Furry Animals – “Bad Behaviour” (from 1996 LP Fuzzy Logic)

Continuing in the vein of hedonistic power-pop with leanings equal parts psych and glam, this deliriously rocking number from SFA’s much-loved debut album sheds light on Rhys’s formatively wayward youth with such killer lines as “Bad behaviour was my saviour / Making mischief used to make my day / Subsequently, accidentally / I put my fist through a window pane”

Super Furry Animals – “Demons” (from 1997 LP Radiator)

This cast-iron Super Furry classic came as proof positive that Rhys, as well as being a uniquely charismatic front man, was also a writer of sophisticated comedown ballads the likes of which even David Bowie would have been proud to call his own. For “It’s on America’s tortured brow / That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow”, read “And by the year four million, our skins will be vermilion / I own a dartboard memory, so I forget any felony”

Super Furry Animals – “Ice Hockey Hair” (from 1998 EP Ice Hockey Hair)

Simply SFA’s greatest moment, and that really is saying something when you’ve got the likes of “Slow Life” and “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck” scrabbling away behind it. Mick Head, songwriting genius of The Pale Fountains and Shack, once said that he had “clung” onto “Ice Hockey Hair” during a period of his life, and Rocksucker can attest to much the same. If you can find a more euphoric refrain than “Now that you’re here, tell me you’re a non-believer”, we almost don’t want to know it…

Super Furry Animals – “Don’t Be a Fool, Billy” (from 1998 collection Out Spaced)

A mere ‘B-sides and rarities’ package it may have been, but Out Spaced holds together as well as any SFA studio album and boasts plenty of songs good enough to have graced any. Ace lead guitar line from Huw ‘Bunf’ Bunford aside, “Don’t Be a Fool, Billy” is a blob-on exhibition of the craftiness, playfulness, haziness and craziness that characterised Rhys’s songwriting at that stage…

Super Furry Animals – “Night Vision” (from 1999 LP Guerrilla)

Rocksucker plays Guerrilla every year when the sun comes back out to play, so we very much enjoyed singing along to every word of yesterday’s airing. On a stunningly eclectic record, “Night Vision” stands out for Rhys’s berserk hollering in the chorus and his energisingly rhythmic delivery of lines like “Said, ‘I exist in flexi-time / You’ll need a ruler ’cause I’m out of line’ / Your energetic young face will change to mush / And the policeman will keep hush hush”. Try listening to this without wanting to bounce around like Tigger on ecstasy…

Super Furry Animals – “Gwreiddiau Dwfn” / “Mawrth Oer Ar y Blaned Neifion” (from 2000 LP Mwng)

It was at Rhys’s behest that the Furries pared their sound right back for the following year’s all-Welsh-language set, the majestic closer of which shows Rhys’s bucolic side in all its elegant beauty – you won’t need to know a word of Welsh in order to luxuriate in, even sing along with, this erstwhile set-closer (bear in mind it had “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck” to contend with on that front)…

Mogwai – “Dial: Revenge” (from 2001 LP Rock Action)

This time lending a guest vocal to friends and admirers Mogwai, this doomy sort of folk number was one of the highlights of a very fine album indeed. More punnery at play here, too – ‘dial’ is apparently Welsh for ‘revenge’ – and we all know that happiness is indeed a worn pun

Super Furry Animals – “Receptacle for the Respectable” (from 2001 LP Rings Around the World)

Three distinctly different Gruffs on this tangential crowd-pleaser: there’s the sunny psych-pop Gruff of the opening stages, the impassioned, balladeering Gruff of the “tell me…” section, and then the totally unhinged death metal Gruff of the titular refrain. If you don’t love this then you’re not to be trusted…

Super Furry Animals – “Liberty Belle” (from 2003 LP Phantom Power)

Although not necessarily the album’s strongest track – “Slow Life” would probably be the popular choice, for example, and then there are such glorious grapples with narrative as “Venus and Serena” and “City Scape Sky Baby” to consider – Rhys displays on “Liberty Belle” a rare-as-rocking-horse-puke ability to comment on the state of the planet intelligently, poetically, ambiguously and humanely, totally shorn of the cack-handed concession to clichés that characterises the attempts of so many other songwriters, and of course wrapped up in a melody so sweet and sunny of disposition that it bears comparison with Surf’s Up-era Beach Boys…

Gruff Rhys – “Pwdin Wy” 1 & 2 (from 2005 LP Yr Atal Genhedlaeth)

Rhys’s first solo outing was a collection of Welsh-language numbers that began life as demos until it became clear to yer man how well they could scrub up. We are technically selecting two songs here, but they both tell the same story of Pwdin Wy (Egg Pudding), which – judging by the shift from solid-gold power-pop on part 1 into downcast fingerpicking on part 2 – did not end all too happily…

Super Furry Animals – “Frequency” (from 2005 LP Love Kraft)

Not just further compelling evidence of Rhys’s way with a protest song – in this instance aiming lines like “You say history will be your judge / But the jury’s whipped, gagged and drugged / Take away the blinkers from your eyes / Humans split, polarised” squarely at Tony Blair and his ilk) – but also one of the most exquisitely soulful songs he’s ever attached his name to.,,

Gruff Rhys – “Ffrwydriad Yn Y Ffurfafen” (from 2007 LP Candylion)

On an album full of truly sublime moments – check out how beautifully Rhys’s voice combines with that of Lisa Jen on “Cycle of Violence”, for example – this Welsh-language number snuck in just before closing epic “Skylon!” is easy to overlook given its place on the running order, but is a mysterious psych-folk marvel fit to rival early SFA B-side “Cryndod Yn Dy Lais”

Super Furry Animals – “Into the Night” (from 2007 LP Hey Venus!)

…on which Rhys shows that he’s more than capable of turning in an utterly commanding vocal performance at any kind of weird Turkish ’70s prog thing you may care to throw at him…

Neon Neon – “Dream Cars” (from 2008 LP Stainless Style)

Rhys’s melodic instincts were dimmed not a jot on this collaboration album with electronic producer Boom Bip – in fact, they not only shined as brightly as ever, but managed to do so in the context of thematic lyrical devotion to the life and times of John DeLorean. As you might expect, the musical chronicling is shot through with such universally adorable lines as “Excuse me, sir / I was dancing with her / Yes, her in the fur / If you’d care to confer”, and as for that chorus…well, just how dreamy is that chorus? Dreamy enough to have you grasping for rhetorical questions implicit of high praise, that’s how dreamy…

Super Furry Animals – “Moped Eyes” (from 2009 LP Dark Days/Light Years)

We kind of wanted to go with “Helium Hearts” for Rhys’s utterly charming application of chin-based lyrics (yes, you read that right) to a song that sounds like Bill Withers scoring the world’s coolest retro kids’ TV show, but so gosh darn sexy is his turn on this lightly funky jam that it demands inclusion in the interests of showing as much as possible of what this man is capable of. Ace lyrics, but that should go without saying by now…

Tony Da Gatorra vs Gruff Rhys – “In a House With No Mirrors (You’ll Never Get Old)” (from 2010 LP The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness)

Rhys’s collaboration album with a Brazilian TV repairman was not to everyone’s tastes, but this single shines through with pure Gruffy goodness, so much so that he continues to perform it live…

Gruff Rhys – “If We Were Words (We Would Rhyme)” (from 2011 album Hotel Shampoo)

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. That’s all you need to know, other than what it sounds like…

What would you put on your own personal Gruff Rhys playlist? Have your say in the comments section below!

Praxis Makes Perfect will be released on 29th April through Lex Records. For more information, please visit lexprojects.com/artists/neon-neon

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About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.