Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg

In the late 90’s I found myself outside of Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern desperately trying to listen to a sold out Super Furry Animals show. The Welsh band were about to release another masterpiece in the form of Guerilla and were playing a mix of hit songs and yet to be released songs. Sadly, the sound was almost imperceptible from the street and I went on my way walking around the city. It was a sign of things to come, unfortunately – each time Super Furry Animals or Gruff Rhys solo came to town I’d either have a show lined up already (Black Sabbath being the most notable) or simply couldn’t make it. That’ll change this October when I finally take in a Gruff Rhys solo show in an intimate venue. He’ll be supporting his latest solo album, Babelsberg one of the finest records he’s been involved with, solo or otherwise.

The sound of the record is unique in his diverse catalogue – almost exclusively 60’s spaghetti western vibes. Think Ennio Morricone and Lee Hazlewood with just a dash of Scott Walker and you’ll have an idea of what this record sounds like. Lyrically, the album imagines a world in which leaders aren’t trustworthy, romance still is something to hold on to, and people are looking for the perfect selfie no matter what is going on around them. Hard to envision such a world, but to his credit Gruff Rhys makes it somewhat believable. Frontier Man opens the record and is also the 1st single. It sets the tone for the record – somewhat positive feeling with dark lyrics. We are a long ways away from the Britpop feel of early Super Furry Animals. “When the future isn’t broken / By a fence that we pool in / Frontier man, frontier man / On the frontier of delusion”. Negative Vibes works the opposite way – you’d think it is a darker song, but it is about overcoming those dark moments. The chorus is downright infectious. Not surprisingly, this song overlaps with Super Furry Animals, having been played a handful of times by the band. It’s official release is welcome here. “You and I can conquer all the negative vibes / Hang around with our lives together or apart”. Selfies in the Sunset is a duet for the end of the world – literally. Calling to mind those gorgeous duets between Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra, this is my favorite song on the album. Not a care in the world as our narrators attempt to get that perfect selfie. Sweetly, in harmony, the vocals are perfection. “It’s the last film that we’ll ever see / Armageddon wants company / Selfies in the sunset / Won’t get you many likes / Stare into the mirror / Until the moment’s right”. A fitting conclusion to this masterful album.

The album is out now and no matter if you are a Super Furry Animals, Neon Neon, or Gruff Rhys solo fan, there is something here for you to love. One of my favorite albums of the year so far, highly recommended.

Verdict: Another masterpiece from Gruff

For Fans of: Super Furry Animals, Lee Hazlewood, Blur, Johnny Cash, Scott Walker, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci

Tracks:

  1. Frontier Man
  2. The Club
  3. Oh Dear!
  4. Limited Edition Heart
  5. Take That Call
  6. Drone in the City
  7. Negative Vibes
  8. Same Old Song
  9. Architecture of Amnesia
  10. Selfies in the Sunset

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