Review Summary: Undoubtedly the biggest project he has embarked on so far.
Being such a huge Super Furry Animals fan, I was really happy to at least hear their vocal/guitar player Gruff Rhys continue the shiny colored musical path paved by him and his band mates over the past two decades. As they have been on hiatus since 2010, he kept quite a busy schedule by releasing one record with Boom Bip under the Neon Neon moniker, a joint effort with Brazilian experimental artist Tony da Gattora, two movies and a book. Most important of all are the two solo LPs he dropped. Hotel Shampoo
was a gorgeous blend of soulful vocals with pop/rock tunes that occasionally delved into jazz and lounge. Also, his insightful lyrics concerning love both as a blessing and a curse were mashed with several lovely random scenarios and comparisons (such as 'Christopher Columbus' or a vitamin on 'Vitamin K' among others).
I hoped this approach would also make his latest project equally brilliant or even better, however, American Interior
acts as an entirely different beast from its predecessor. The introspective moments have been replaced with a full blown concept that follows John Evans, an 18th century Welsh explorer who sought to find a lost tribe of Welsh people that supposedly lived along the Missouri river. So, Gruff booked an entire US tour last summer and was joined by ex-Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock in his own trip. Following Evans' footsteps, he documented himself enough to write the album and an accompanying eponymous book that expands both men's odysseys. A very demanding move, yet Rhys managed to successfully pull it off. Still, how does the actual music present itself"
Among the most beautiful moments, 'Liberty (Is Where Will Be)' and 'Year Of The Dog' count as the most significant. The former is a joyous piano pop anthem, that even though it has a powerful message somehow feels a lot more humble and definitely not meant to be a stadium filler. The soft piano leads, splendid strings and gentle slide guitar touches make this one of Gruff's biggest and most enjoyable accomplishments so far. 'Year Of The Dog', on the other hand, is a slower, more melancholic tune that follows the Hotel Shampoo
formula and serves as a great conclusion to the album. Moreover, its coda, 'Tiger's Tale' is a delightful end where the lap steel guitar takes the lead and you can just imagine him walking off at sunset after such a long journey. The entire concept somehow steals some of the possible thrills as the whole album clings onto it. Reading the book and watching the movie would most probably help fill the blanks in the story.
Inevitably, there are several 'American' influences that surface amid the usual piano-based tunes. There are some interesting Welsh chants that act as a chorus on 'Allweddellau Allweddol' and are nicely interspersed with Rhys' gentle croon. Besides it, there's the galloping 'Iolo' (as in Iolo Morganwg an antiquarian who was supposed to join Evans in his search, but backed out at the last minute) that sounds like a thief chase through the Wild West in a spaghetti western. There are some epic strings too, which add a lot to the suspense.
Despite the lovely songs, I have bipolar feelings regarding American Interior
. Some of the cuts are awesome, but others are experiments that fit the direction yet aren't as enjoyable or simply end up goofy. '100 Unread Messages' and 'The Whether (Or Not), for example, borrow country elements and even though it's all 100% Gruff Rhys, they are a bit cheesy and don't quite fit his age. Moreover, there are a couple of tunes like 'Lost Tribes' or 'Walk Into The Wilderness' that although are a nice listen, they don't necessarily add anything to the adventure and feel that have been added solely for the storyline. However, maybe I am only overly pretentious and exaggerated as I had really high expectations from the more mature and settled Hotel Shampoo
Nevertheless, I admire Gruff for the efforts made to create the record plus the movie and book. I am sure his broad vision makes for a great read as American Interior
sure is worth checking out. Musically, he moved in a slightly different direction that works more often than not. He is still an amazing songwriter and like many seasoned musicians, constantly tries to improve and churn career highlights even if that means exploring new sonic territories. So, until the Super Furry Animals return (if they still plan on reuniting at some point), make sure to keep an eye on Rhys and listen to this.