Reading a list of his earliest bands and albums is a lot like taking your first crack at "The Silmarillion," and I don't care how simultaneously uncultured and nerdy that makes me sound. It's pretty, complex, and pleasantly strange, but it's hard.
Gruff Rhys is a sonic inventor at heart and a collaborator by trade, most well-known in the non-Welsh world for his involvement with Super Furry Animals but active as a solo performer since the release of "Yr Atal Genhedlaeth" in 2005. His first (mostly) English language album, 2007's "Candylion," was a definite pop effort, frisky, light and very similar to one of Rhys' recent partnerships, an addictively cheerful single made with Akira the Don and titled "We Won't Be Broke Forever."
"Hotel Shampoo" is Rhys' third solo album. Released last year, it's a sophisticated symphonic highlight of his career, mellow and self-contained, almost as if Rhys is holding something back and hiding it behind glistening synth strings and relaxed baritone. Rhys' latter compositions are much tighter than his early solo work, but he still throws a little weight around in terms of instrumentals and effects.
Rhys calls his current U.S. tour "American Interior," and it's described by his website, The Gruffington Post, as "... an investigative concert tour that follows the route that John Evans took through north America between 1792 and 1799, in search of a mythical Welsh speaking tribe of Native Americans." About as imaginative and unbelievable-yet-true as Evans himself, this tour concept ties together beep-boop video game sounds, campfire guitar, bird chirps and rattles.
It's not as hard as reading Welsh, but it's just as pretty, complex and pleasantly strange.
All photos by Louis Kwok.