Gruff Rhys

American Interior

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Legend has it that a Welsh prince called Madoc discovered the Americas in 1170, some three hundred years prior to Christopher Columbus. Legend also says Madoc and his men mated with Native Americans, thereby creating a Welsh Indian tribe whose existence belongs to myth. Such a tale is ideal for Gruff Rhys, the Welsh psychedelic pop artist who has specialized in eccentricity from his very first recording with Super Furry Animals. American Interior captures Rhys' own attempt to retrace the footsteps of explorer John Evans, who set out in the 1790s to find the lost Welsh-speaking tribe. Evans didn't find the tribe and for Rhys the journey itself is the destination, a journey he chronicled in a film, in a book, and in this concept album. As a record, American Interior hits a sweet spot between his lush art rock with SFA and his arch conceptual works released under the Neon Neon moniker. The narrative is slightly hard to parse and not just because Rhys occasionally dips into the Welsh language. Smartly, Gruff expends as much of his energy composing as he does telling a tale, grounding himself within the kind of grand, baroque psychedelia that's very familiar from latter-day SFA but he'll cheekily touch upon strands of Americana, turning "100 Unread Messages" into a little bit of swinging rockabilly, while "The Whether (Or Not)" stomps like a forgotten glam nugget and "Liberty (Is Where We'll Be)" approximates some of the gorgeous, gossamer smoothness of Philly soul. Such sly allusions are knowing and affectionate without being snide and that openheartedness is evident throughout American Interior, as Gruff Rhys exhibits a true sense of wonder at the possibility that still exists in the heartland of America. That it doesn't always evoke the exotic myth of the Welsh Indians is an attribute; he's wound up creating his own wildly romantic vision of America from the story of Prince Madoc and John Evans, and it's something to behold.

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