sun 14/04/2024

Album: Gruff Rhys - Sadness Sets Me Free | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Gruff Rhys - Sadness Sets Me Free

Album: Gruff Rhys - Sadness Sets Me Free

Dreamy, low key agit prop from the enduringly exploratory Super Furry Animal

'A weird, inspiring and very lovely record'

Halfway through this album, “They Sold My Home to Build a Skyscraper” unlocks it. On first listen I’d been nodding along with the first few songs, enjoying how they find glimmers of more or less forlorn hope in amongst sadness and middle-aged domestic stress.

I’d been enjoying, too, how the gentle, even kitsch bossa nova and psyche pop lilt of the arrangements makes them into what I like to think of as “soft music for hard times” (in fact an obsession of mine, see my playlist series now over 130 volumes strong). And then came “...Skyscraper” which pulled all of those elements together, condensed them, expressed their themes in some perfect couplets.

“Be a beacon in the gloom / be the mammoth in the room,” the sometime Super Furry Animal croons. And “keep on growing in the dark.” It’s a call to arms. A gentle, whimsical call to arms, couched in subtly psychedelic wordplay and resonances – there’s a lovely little guitar strum halfway through that nods towards “Big Yellow Taxi”, the song’s obvious precursor in subject matter – but a call to arms nonetheless. It encapsulates the running theme of the record: maintaining hope in bleak times – but doing this specifically by maintaining strangeness, providing succour to other oddballs, creating imperfect connections (“maybe bad friends are still friends and better than a memory…”)

It’s not all retreat and regrouping, mind. “Cover Up the Cover Up” takes aim at government, press and monarchy and calls for root and branch renewal in a bit of straight up agit-prop which lyrically would happily fit on a Crass record – although the song itself is a lilting piano ballad. All of it is done with a melancholy joy which is reflected in the groove. The writing and arrangements have endless sophistication; less so the production by veteran Beck/Beastie Boys collaborator Mario Caldato. It’s may well be a deliberate decision to make it feel low-key, to match the subdued nature of the songs – but the thing is, they’re so damn good, they could take a lot more lavishness and sparkle. As it is, though, this is a weird, inspiring and very lovely record.

@joemuggs

Listen to "Bad Friend":

There's a bit of straight up agit-prop which lyrically would happily fit on a Crass record

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Average: 4 (1 vote)

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