[sic] Magazine

Gruff Rhys – American Interior

A decade ago, Argentinian footballer Gabriel Heinze transferred to join Manchester United, with two rumours following him to England; that he was a no-nonsense hardman, and that he was fluent in Welsh. Some 200 years previously, whispers of a native American, Welsh-speaking tribe had inspired farmhand John Evans to cross the Atlantic and investigate.

This legendary adventure prompted another Welshman, singer-songwriter Gruff Rhys, to repeat the journey in 2012 by way of an acoustic tour. American Interior is the result of Rhys’s travels, released on a groundbreaking four formats: an album of songs written on and inspired by his Latin American adventure, a book and film documenting the tour, and an interactive app.

Rhys, himself no stranger to pioneering release formats (his parent band Super Furry Animals released 2001’s Rings Around the World on simultaneous CD and DVD, and then were first to play live in surround sound when touring it), fills this record with his trademark folk-pop sound, West Coast harmonies and lyrical grace.

When you said that you loved me, I knew it wasn’t true. 100 unread messages, and not a single note from you,” Rhys sings on the chorus to ‘100 Unread Messages’, each time increasing in both pitch and number of messages. Throughout the record, centuries are effortlessly transcended, as the lyrics deliver an intriguing uncertainty as to whether Rhys is regaling Evans’s tales or his own. It all makes for a record which sounds very current, both lyrically and musically.

‘The Last Conquistador’ finds Rhys in gloriously reflective mood, as a light, electronic trio of drumbeat, bass and piano gradually makes way for an orchestral chorus. The electric keyboards continue through the slower stomp of ‘Lost Tribes’ before the strings return for piano-led ‘Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)’, Rhys displaying his fine ear for a chorus throughout.

A nursery rhyme loop initiates the mid-point of the album, ‘Allweddellau Allweddol’. The track, the strongest musical evidence of the album’s geographical influence, proves a somewhat disappointing distraction, before Rhys returns to what he does best on ‘The Swamp’, a song whose title gives no indication as to the melodic beauty of its chorus (“I’m not scared of dying, I’m only scared of making you cry”.)

Piano-laden ballads remain the (much-welcome) order of the day, before the slide guitar-tinged ‘Year Of The Dog’ lowers the tempo to close the album, Rhys again adopting the first person amidst three-part harmonies: “String me along, your companion in song. Treat me wrong, and one day I’ll be gone.”

And with that, and the song’s coda – the instrumental ‘Tiger Tales’, Rhys is indeed gone, for the recorded album at least. He leaves behind very much a Gruff Rhys record, which, despite three quarters of the release undoubtedly breaking new territory, musically remains as endearingly familiar as we have come to know and love.

~American Interior is released 5th May 2014 by Turnstile.~