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Gruff Rhys - Seeking New Gods Music Album Reviews

Gruff Rhys - Seeking New Gods Music Album Reviews
The Super Furry Animals frontman’s latest is a concept album about an ancient volcano on the China-North Korea border that ranks among his most imaginative solo records.

Gruff Rhys could have been a schoolteacher—one of those unconventional educators who regale students with skits about historical oddities and scoff at standardized testing. The Super Furry Animals singer’s academic interests are as eclectic as the freewheeling Welsh band he spent most of his adulthood fronting. That’s been particularly clear since 2008, when Rhys began digging his way out of a songwriting rut with biographical albums about historical figures. First came a concept album by Rhys side project Neon Neon, about the bizarre life of car designer John DeLorean. Then, after SFA drifted into a lengthy hiatus, Rhys discovered he was a descendant of an 18th-century Welsh explorer named John Evans and proceeded to write a solo album, documentary, and book about the little-known saga. He’s the sort of songwriter who could read a newspaper article at 9 o’clock and have the outline for an album by noon.

You could characterize Seeking New Gods, a record drawn from the same well of madcap curiosity, as a loose follow-up to that 2014 record, American Interior. But Rhys’ seventh and latest solo album is not as aggressive in its genre-hopping, nor is it about an explorer. It’s not even about a human. It’s a concept album about a volcano—Mount Paektu, a desolate stratovolcano on the North Korea-China border that’s thought to hold mythical properties, and with which Rhys became obsessed after reading about it in a book. Coated in Rhys’ signature candy-sweet psychedelia and rippling with the immediacy of his touring band’s performances, Seeking New Gods ranks among his best and most imaginative solo albums, powered by the fervent drive of one determined to make an esoteric obsession legible to others.

The concept, to its credit, never feels tedious. It would be a fool’s errand to strive for scientific rigor, or a thorough accounting of Mount Paektu’s qualities. (That was Rhys’ first strategy, and the songs were, by his account, “pretty bad.”) Instead of bending his music to fit Mount Paektu’s story, Rhys shamelessly anthropomorphizes the volcano to suit his songwriting. He’s at his whimsical best crooning about the imagined emotional life of an ancient peak; on “Loan Your Loneliness,” he turns a song about the isolation of mountains that outlast entire human civilizations into a honeyed rumination on loneliness. A thumping piano shuffle makes the song a lively standout, and the pleasant buzz of a vintage Solina synth hovers over the mix like a high-altitude fog. (Rhys deliberately applied the instrument to every track, envisioning the synth pads “as weather systems wrapping around the mountain.”) 

Musically, Seeking New Gods slots neatly between the orchestral grandeur of Rhys’ excellent Babelsberg and the lush, laidback psychedelia of Phantom Power- or Love Kraft-era Furries. Recorded in live sessions with the group Rhys assembled for the Babelsberg tour, the album feels like a solo record in name only. It pops with the collaborative energy of Rhys’ supporting cast: “Can’t Carry On” coaxes celestial beauty from the swooning vocal harmonies of Mirain Haf Roberts and Lisa Jên, while even the prettiest moments are offset by the energetic drumming of longtime Rhys collaborator (and former Flaming Lips drummer) Kliph Scurlock. “Hiking in Lightning,” an obligatory nod to stormy weather on Mount Paektu, evokes the raucousness of early SFA; it’s a rare miss, never quite committing to its punkish abandon. Still, the crisp, live sound of Seeking New Gods is a welcome change from the pitter-patter beats of 2019’s Pang!

As a songwriter, Rhys has a knack for locating the emotional center of surrealist subjects, whether it be a love story about Albert Einstein’s parents or an optimistic vision of Earth after human extinction. With Seeking New Gods, he’s found a particularly malleable target. He writes in the liner notes that he hopes the songs sound “like they come from a very personal place,” despite having been inspired by “events relating to Mount Paektu, from 2333 BC to present day.” The paradox thrives on “Mausoleum of My Former Self,” an ambling psych-folk meditation on how volcanoes inevitably linger long after they’ve erupted. Is Rhys envisioning himself as a volcano reflecting on past glories, or an aging songwriter pondering past lives through the prism of his old records (“As the mausoleum of my former self/My songs displayed upon the shelves”)? Naturally, it’s both. Centuries from now, when eccentric musicians stumble upon the long-lost figure of Gruff Rhys, they could pick a worse place to start.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Gruff Rhys - Seeking New Gods Music Album Reviews Gruff Rhys - Seeking New Gods Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, June 01, 2021 Rating: 5

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