Gruff Rhys – Seeking New Gods – Album Review
by Cathy Brown
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 12 years since the last Super Furry Animals album. During that time Gruff Rhys has embraced the wacky and the wonderful in his other iterations as Neon Neon and in his solo career.
Seeking New Gods – his seventh solo album – is another gloriously idiosyncratic concept album, this time loosely exploring the mythology and history of Mount Paektu, the North Korean active volcano that is feted as the birthplace of Kim Jong-un’s father and considered a sacred place in Korean folklore. Rhys skips any political grandstanding and uses the imagery of this place in a more personal way, exploring questions of time, place and aging.
Opening track Mausoleum of my Former Self is a grandiose slice of piano-led power pop. ‘Can you hear the rumble?’ he sings on Can’t Carry On with its catchy chorus and orchestral pop sound that channels Prefab Sprout at their best. Recent single Loan Your Loneliness mixes rollicking piano, cosmic synths and Kliph Scurlock’s (The Flaming Lips) driving drums to create a 70s soft rock vibe.
Title track Seeking New Gods embraces the muggy laid back rock sound, while the chirpy piano led Holiest of Holymen, with its irregular time changes and epic chorus is a track of which Nilsson would have been proud.
Things get a little more bonkers with The Keep where the warped psychedelic dreaminess and Beach Boys melodies give way to a melee of swirling, stomping free-form jazz. He indulges in a touch of silliness on the wonderful Hiking in Lightning whose garage rock sound serves as a backdrop to a lyrical cautionary tale against dangerous activities. ‘Walking a tightrope in slippery flip-flops is harrowing’ sings Rhys and it may well be, but listening to this is exhilarating. The album closes with Distant Snowy Peaks, an epic, 80s-inflected gem whose beautiful swirling arrangement is a joyous delight.
Seeking New Gods might be about aging and global anxiety, but it’s as laid-back and loose as they come. Slightly more mainstream than its predecessors, as a solo album, it is as close to the Super Furry Animals sound as we’ve got in the last twelve years. Filled with catchy choruses, angelic harmonies from Lisa Jên and Mirain Haf Roberts of alternative folk group 9Bach, warm piano and lush arrangements, this latest release is a reminder that, as an artist, Gruff Rhys is one of a kind.