The Super Furry Animal's tribute to an 18th-century explorer
A rock Wes Anderson, Gruff Rhys has built a solid career on creating lush, immersive and fully-formed surrealist worlds outside of Super Furry Animals. With Neon Neon he’s made concept albums about notable entrepreneurs and rebels and acted them out live with theatre troupes, while his last solo album was named after the miniature hotel he made out of stolen hotel shampoo bottles. A prime pop nutter, then, and here’s his Guernica: an album written while following the journey of an 18th Century Welsh explorer called John Evans – who travelled the formative USA hunting the Madogwys, a mythical Welsh-speaking tribe of native Americans – with a small felt effigy of the great/deluded man himself.
The album, like the concept, pokes a little affectionate fun at history. The title track has Evans “//searching for a fallacy//” to ominous psych folk while ‘100 Unread Messages’ and ‘Iolo’ trace his route to tongue-in-cheek hillbilly bluegrass and spaghetti western Texarkana. Here – and on synth-fucked carnival tune ‘The Whether (Or Not)’ and the Bontempi ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’ that is ‘The Last Conquistador’ – ‘American Interior’ treads close to the Sesame Street educational comedy revue. However, a mid-section of orchestral Bacharach lounge pop, hints of Gorillaz afro-hop on ‘Allweddellau Allweddol’, the glitchy gospel of ‘The Swamp’ and some glacial grandeur on ‘Walk Into The Wilderness’ and ‘Year Of The Dog’ bring a sense of nobility and glory to the tale of this tribe-hunting madman.