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Album Review: Gruff Rhys – American Interior

3 min read

The thing I love about Gruff Rhys is that he doesn’t settle for normal. Ever since his Super Furry Animal days there was always a sense of playfulness, wit, and uniqueness which gratefully spilled over to his solo work.  This can be seen in album Candylion, featuring songs in English, Spanish and Welsh and also by the Rhys fronted band Neon Neon, engraving electro-pop craziness with a concept based around the maker of the famous 80s car, the Delorean.

GruffRhys-AmericanInteriorAnd it’s with the use of a concept album that Gruff continues his solo work with the release of American Interior.  You can’t say the singer lacks imagination here, as the record is centred around a distant relative of his, John Evans, who in the 1700’s supposedly traveled from Wales to America to seek out a mythical tribe of Welsh speaking Native Americans – not your average musical direction.  Not only is the singer releasing this album recounting Johns journey in his own way, but he’s also written a book about it, releasing a film documenting his own travels following the story, and also releasing an app to tie everything together.  The question is, has Rhys over-reached with his goal this time, or has he managed wrap everything up in a neat little package?

The album kicks off with American Exteriors short and sweet electro sound leading straight into title track American Interior, and the shift in tone is immediately recognisable.  Solemn and repetitive in a good way, American Interior gently sweeps you along in a dream like state as Gruff sings “your visions carry me to a new world”.  And that’s exactly what Rhys is trying to create with this album – a place where dream, history and reality can all congregate to create something special.

100 Unread Messages really gives a feel for the American sound that flits in and out of the album, being a kind tongue-in-cheek love song with Rhys changing accent appropriately for different parts of the track.  Using contrasting styles and instruments is a tool used throughout the record and somehow manages to gel the enormity of the albums task together. The Lost Tribes sounds like something Madonna could have done in her prime, whereas the welsh speaking Allweddellau Allweddol could be likened to Damon Albarn’s band Gorrilaz, but on acid – a feat which should be hard to pull off, but Rhys does with ease.

Having had so much practice with concept albums, the singer has really honed his skill and it comes through with the marvelous story-telling and attitude in the music.  Liberty is Where We’ll Be is proof of this and an album highlight, allowing Rhys to mentally and physically “retrace the steps that set me free”, and create a glowing account of this at the same time.

The record has gentle and reflective moments contrasted with upbeat imagery, and really comes together as only a concept album can do.  It could be difficult for some people to get into if they’re unable to open their minds, but like anything, it depends on the taste of the person – it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the record is a journey you have to take to really understand.

American Interior is a land of magic and wonder and allows you to escape with Rhys to another place for just over 46 minutes.  The music not only twists and turns, but creates images and questions in your mind throughout.  Whether these questions and images can be answered and solidified with the other platforms of film, book and app accompanying this release is yet to be seen, but even if they don’t, the album alone manages to stand proud as a great accomplishment.