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Gruff Rhys

One of the great pop eccentrics of his generation, Gruff Rhys began his career with the noise pop group Ffa Coffi Pawb, gained fame in the mid-'90s as the frontman for the Welsh neo-psychedelic warriors Super Furry Animals, and has continued to craft melodically rich, stylistically adventurous works as a solo artist. Rhys first stepped out on SFA while the group was still active, releasing the Welsh-language Yr Atal Genhedlaeth in 2005 and teaming up with Boom Bip as Neon Neon for a pair of electro-pop albums. Once Super Furry Animals retired in 2010, Rhys pursued a number of ambitious creative endeavors, ranging from the 2014 multi-media project American Interior and the orchestral 2018 LP Babelsberg to 2021's glam rock-infused Seeking New Gods. By the time of his 25th album, 2024's Sadness Sets Me Free, Rhys' solo career had provided nearly as many surprises and highlights as his time with SFA. Born in 1970 in Haverfordwest, Wales, Rhys' first foray into the musical arts was at the ripe age of five, when he wrote an odd little number about a train driver who's contemplating his own death. When he was older, he briefly played drums in Creation Records band Emily, then formed Ffa Coffi Pawb. The group, which also included future members of SFA as well as Gorky's Zygotic Myci, released three albums between 1988 and 1992 that explored various types of guitar rock from noisy and weird to trippy and poppy. Before that group had run its course, Rhys had already begun performing with an early version of SFA, playing left-field techno. They soon switched to playing left-field guitar pop that gained much of its character from Rhys' outlandish and obscure lyrical slants. After many critically acclaimed singles and full-lengths, Rhys released his solo outing, the Welsh-language Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, in 2005. When Super Furry Animals moved to Rough Trade, the label also picked up Rhys' solo work and released his second album, Candylion, early in 2007. That same year, Neon Neon, a collaboration between Rhys and Boom Bip, released Stainless Style, an electro-pop concept album about auto tycoon John DeLorean. Rhys next stepped outside of SFA in 2010 for The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness, a duet album with Tony Da Gatorra. In 2011 he released his third solo album, Hotel Shampoo, featuring production from Andy Votel. He returned to Neon Neon for 2013's Praxis Makes Perfect and went on to devote himself to an ambitious multimedia project called American Interior. An album, a movie, and a book, American Interior traced Rhys' journey through America to track the legend of John Evans, a Welshman who searched for the legendary lost tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans in 1792. The project was unveiled in 2014, the same year that Rhys provided the soundtrack for the file Set Fire to the Stars, dipping into jazz and easy listening. His ever-expanding musical universe stretched even further when he penned the libretto for Stephen McNeff's 2017 opera 2117/Hedd Wyn. In 2018, Rhys released Babelsberg, a lush, sweeping album recorded with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. A year later, he returned with Pang!, a collaboration with South African electronic musician Muzi that was primarily sung in Welsh and heavily inspired by various forms of African music. Rhys next released Seeking New Gods, a myth-making exercise about a volcano, recorded in part during a short stay in the Mojave Desert and mixed by Mario Caldato, Jr. of Beastie Boys fame. After its May 2021 release, he and his band took to the road and he worked on the soundtrack to the film The Almond & the Seahorse. When Rhys and his live band -- pianist Osian Gwynedd, bassist Huw V Williams, and former Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock puls vocalist Kate Stables from This Is The Kit -- finished their last show touring behind the record, they decamped immediately to a studio in France to start work on an album, the 25th in Rhys' long career. Delving into multiple sounds of the '70s, including orchestral country ballads, breezy soft rock, Baroque Brazilian pop, and smooth disco, Sadness Sets Me Free was issued in January of 2024.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Tim Sendra /TiVo


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