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Music Gruff Rhys

Published on June 29th, 2018 | by voxx

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Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg

An urban dystopia concept LP produces the best work of the Super Furry Animals frontman’s career…

If artists from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s typically suffered a creative slump come middle age, the same can’t be said for those who came up in the ’90s: Damon Albarn, Thom Yorke and the Gallaghers are still producing some of their best work. Often overlooked, though, is Super Furry Animals’ frontman Gruff Rhys, possibly because he’s focused on a solo career whose conceptual tendencies culminated with 2014’s American Interior, an album about an 18th-century Welsh explorer.

John Evans.

Follow-up Babelsberg is similarly high concept – its title spins the name of a region in the German city of Potsdam into an imagined place filled with the towering hubris of luxury apartments. But this being Rhys, a sterling melody is never far away. In fact, Babelsberg is absolutely stuffed with some of his finest songs to date.

Its orchestral pop production is perhaps represented most vividly on the Scott Walker-ish ‘Drones In The City’, which finds strange beauty in sinister government surveillance. Throughout we’re in similar baroque territory, with band and orchestra slowing down and speeding up in tandem to heighten the drama, amid moments of disorientating trippiness, such as when the dancers in ‘The Club’ fall through the floor, “descending to different dimensions”.

Babelsberg sweetens its sometimes bleak modern world views with pop confection – the delusional ‘Frontier Man’ sounds like the ghost of Glen Campbell, while a sublime duet with actress/model Lily Cole, ‘Selfies In The Sunset’, depicts a couple empty-grinning into their phones among scenes of coming Armageddon. But even if there’s a sense of darkness descending, in his best solo album yet, Gruff Rhys paints with bright and uplifting colours.

- By Jake White


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