Review: Gruff Rhys – American Interior
Published on April 22nd, 2014 | Jonny Abrams
We’re yet to see the accompanying film, read the accompanying book or piss about with the accompanying app, but we’ve been listening to Gruff Rhys’s fourth solo album American Interior enough of late to give you some carefully considered thoughts on where it stacks up in the great man’s audio oeuvre (audioeuvre?).
At various points, American Interior sounds like each of his grand Super Furriness’s previous LPs away from Super Furry Animals, Neon Neon and eccentric Brazilian repairmen – there’s luxurious balladry à la Hotel Shampoo, fire-bellied mystery-folk à la Candylion and even, on the insanely catchy “The Whether (Or Not)”, a spot of gurgly digital interference à la Yr Atal Genhedlaeth.
For the most part, American Interior is as utterly splendid as is to be expected from such a masterful songwriter – sure, there are moments that can be traced backwards through his repertoire, but the old dog’s got plenty of new tricks to show off too.
The windswept, subtly sophisticated title track flaunts a deliciously fluttery kind of singsong melody in its chorus, adding a distinguished flourish to go with its wrong-footing key change. “100 Unread Messages”, on the other hand, is an enthusiastically delivered stomp that comes across a little like highly evolved barn dance, which is better than that might sound.
What might irk slightly for the avid Rhys follower is how “100 Unread Messages” keeps ascending in key throughout in near-identical fashion to “Ni Yw Y Byd” from Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, although the hyperactive drumming of The Flaming Lips’ Kliph Scurlock lends it all an irresistible thrust.
If initial impressions are that it’s all sounding a little on the cosy side, “The Whether (Or Not)” immediately sets about suggesting the presence before it of a couple of (admittedly rather handsome) red herrings – it’s dippy, trippy and blessed with an exhilaratingly punky twist in a way that channels Creation-era Super Furry Animals, Scurlock’s firecracker drum fills tying it all together a treat.
“The Last Conquistador” uses the kind of keyboard sound and chord progressions mined on last year’s slightly disappointing second Neon Neon album Praxis Makes Perfect, but does it better. In fact, it does it very well indeed, the melodic repetition within its chorus so gorgeous that you’ll be brought to your feet before swooning right back off them.
“Lost Tribes” also uses these glowing ’80s keys, going on to remind of the better moments from Ducktails’ sporadically exquisite The Flower Lane LP of last year, while the lushly cinematic “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” is reconcilable with SFA albums Phantom Power and Love Kraft with its tumbling pastoral melody, cascading piano, shimmering strings and haunting pedal steel.
Easily the most striking departure for Rhys comes with “Allweddellau Allweddol”, sounding as it does like Tricky jamming with Aphex Twin circa 1995. That is to say it’s ace, a conclusion we were also guided to by “The Swamp”, specifically how it builds like prime Grandaddy.
The tempest-folk gallop of “Iolo” is reminiscent of Candylion pair “Lonesome Words” and “Cycle of Violence”, before Rhys breaks the ballads back out on penultimate tracks “Walk into the Wilderness” and “Year of the Dog”, the latter being the closest he’s come to ‘power ballad’ since “Suckers!” from SFA’s 2007 LP Hey Venus.
He just about pulls it off on account of its being more a stately sort of late ’60s/early ’70s thing than the sickly FM radio often implied by ‘power ballad’ – in any case, gracefully chiming instrumental closer “Tiger’s Tale” sprays away any lingering odours that may trouble you.
As things stand we’re not quite as enamoured with American Interior as we usually are with a Gruff Rhys album, but then it took us a while to fully appreciate Hotel Shampoo. Let’s give it the summer to get fully under our skin.
Yes, that was a rubbish ‘interior’ pun to end with. Sorry about that.
American Interior will be released May 5th on Turnstile.
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