Gruff Rhys - Candylion

Bill Cummings 11/01/2007

Rating: 4/5

It's always been clear that Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys a way with a melody, as the front man for one of Wales' most creative and best bands of the last ten years,as you'd expect his solo work is tainted by the same frazzled genius. Candylion; is his second solo album, recorded in a break between creating the follow up to SFA's rather hit and miss last LP “Love Kraft”. Candylion is the long player's central fictious character, a cardboard creation who accompanies the album in flat pack form (assembling him and placing him on my TV, reminded me rather of the television show “Finger Mouse” from my childhood) A product of Gruff's own wonderfully skewed imagination: “Candylion was raised by bears in Micronesia . Trained as a chef in Paris and following a City & Guilds diploma in desktop publishing at Tregoedwig polytechnic transformed himself into a card assembly image of his former self and arranged for the kind lady at the post depot to mail him back flatpack to his bear brothers and sisters. Safely back in the palm forest he was given lessons in exotic guitar pickin' by a passing oxymoron.”

Musically “Candylion” is a colourful musical journey: taking in down tuned lounge, country, and world music above unobtrusive hip hop beats, all merged into fresh, creative beds of sound, the album's strength: is its musical palette that successfully juxtaposes traditional melodies and a backing that's organic yet deceptively modern, Candylion is more akin to a long bath of sounds, that seeps under your skin, than the showery blast of eccentric pop that often bursts forth from the SFA collective. The highlights include the lo fi melody of the title track with its shuffling tinkling rhythm, slide rule guitars and Gruff's wispy whispering vocals, it's melodically refreshing yet sedate and unassuming, the second half of the track pleasingly allowing jousting strings to appear, alongside tropical instrumentation. The "Court of King Arthur" is even more enjoyable, sounding rather like a track from "Radiator," its wonderfully bouncy click rhythm is brought alive by Gruff's fantastic Beatlesy melody and a joyous harmonica line that rides its away, like the soundtrack to a scene from a Zelda computer game: about excavating the ground for King Arthur's medieval furniture, it peaks, on the almost revelatory line “I found the table glistening in the sun!”.

"Lonesome Words" is echoed spaghetti western guitars, ridden delicately by our leader Gruff and backed by a haunting siren in the sky, until one minute elapses that is, and a growing bed of beats and samples emerge from over the hills, it's a beautifully elegant song. While "Painting People Blue" is almost easy listening, in its construct, all swinging guitars and cymbal heavy drums, Gruff exhibiting his honey dipped voice: almost comparable to the work of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci yet its individual squelching guitar buzz is reassuredly Gruff. Up next is the rather splendid, "Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru" is all samba rhythms, monkey noises and repeated refrains, a bit like SFA's Northern Lights taken down a notch or two, it slinks in the moonlight, before Gruff phones in one of his late night telephone conversations. Next is, the widescreen melancholic hum of “Now that the feeling has gone” Gruff and backing singer Lisa's bittersweet vocals brush up against delicately swaying strums and ZX Spectrum bleeps, it's the soundtrack to a come down after a show biz party. Finally is the epic fifteen minutes of closer, "Skylon," a myriad of stories, characters, and a fuzzing beat, it's mighty fine space cadet nu-folk.

If there's one criticism that you could have of this album it's that some of the tracks do have the tendency wash over you in an ineffectual haze, with neither instrumentation or vocals that don't really standout (Con Carino, The Beacon in the Darkness), but on the whole Candylion is a hermetically sealed vision of where Gruff is at as a solo artist, its not a set that has to be pretensions above what it is: an album that has a definite sound, and a beautifully expressive sonic palette, and at its heart, it's the melodies dammit, that bring this cardboard lion to life.