Gruff Rhys - Seeking New Gods
Updated: Jul 3, 2021
Prologue: I first heard the Super Furry Animals in 1996, buying their single God! Show Me Magic. I played it endlessly and was a tad obsessed. I had moved back to live with my parents whilst I saved for a flat and when they went away, I had a party. Somewhere in the early hours, I was drunkenly pogoing on the patio to the marvellous God! Show Me Magic when I fell and hit my head on a metal rail and nearly knocked myself unconscious. My friend Stevey very kindly put me to bed and kept an eye on me. But whenever I hear Gruff I am instantly careful not to fall over…it’s strange how music affects you?
Gruff Rhys, lead singer with Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon, has been releasing an eclectic series of solo albums since 2005. His solo catalogue is a mix of English, Welsh, and Spanish language songs, varied in style, but largely more chilled that the Furries’ mad psychedelia and less electronic than Neon Neon.
Seeking New Gods is his seventh solo album; it was originally themed around Paektu Mountain, an active stratovolcano on the Chinese–North Korean border – the obvious basis for a pop album. However, as he started to record it, it became more abstract, more personal. But the imagery still informs the artwork and lyrics, if not quite becoming a full-on prog rock concept album (and he’s no stranger to the odd concept album, such as the fantastic American Interior).
Opener Mausoleum Of My Former Self is a beautiful horn driven track, allegedly inspired by Lenin’s Mausoleum. With its elegant mix of Mariachi horns and Krautrock synths, it’s lowkey and feelgood, which pretty much sums up the album. And you can hear the volcano/mountain theme straight away in his quirky and strange lyrics: “A crater for the greater good, smoking away as it should, shrugging like it doesn't care, for a fanfare that elevates hair”.
Can’t Carry On started life based on not being allowed to carry on a Korg synthesiser as luggage - ‘can’t carry on’” said the attendant and a song was born. It’s a classic bit of pop, that bleeds nicely into the lead single.
Loan Your Loneliness, with its driving piano, Bowie synths and thundering drums is a weird piece of perfect pop. It uses a volcano as a metaphor for loneliness – “Hills look so lonely when they're stranded”. If you imagine Paul McCartney writing Queen’s You’re My Best Friend – that’s what it sounds like (which is a massive compliment as far as I am concerned).
Elsewhere Hiking In Lightning is psychedelia meets punk meets the Velvets (though I can’t imagine Lou Reed writing about hiking!). It provides a welcome raucous break from the more poppier tracks, and again contains some very idiosyncratic lyrics – “Hiking in lightning is exhilarating and frightening; sandy foundations make shaky skyscrapers – enlightening”. The Keep is similarly off kilter - Beach Boys meets discordant jazz.
Closer Distant Snowy Peaks is majestic, pretty and hypnotic - “We ran the fields together to reach the distant snowy peaks - looking for truth and wisdom in the snow”. It’s fast becoming one of my favourite ever songs.
I think this is his most consistent album to date, ambitious in its subject matter, if less genre-hopping compared to his other material, but all the better for it. It’s cohesive and beautiful and I have used the word "pop" several times to describe it - nothing wrong with great pop music! And whilst I loved seeing him play his acoustic gig this month, I can’t wait to see him banging this out with a live band. Anyone fancy a gig on top of a volcano on the China / Korean borders?