Gruff Rhys

Babelsberg

Rough Trade

Jun 11, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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After catching the city name Babelsberg on a sign while on tour in 2014, Gruff Rhys made note of it. While he was recording this album years later and learned that the studio was to be demolished to make way for a luxury apartment building, the Tower of Babel came to mind as a warped concept of societal aspiration. When the album title came to mind it was a natural fit.

For Rhys's fifth solo album, apart from his work with Super Furry Animals and Neon Neon, the songs of Babelsberg focus on a world where real substance, whether on a personal or broader level, can seem unstable at best. On the country-tinged "Frontier Man," which nods toward the lush '60s productions of Jimmy Webb songs, Rhys studies figures with grand ideas that may not ultimately be for the better: "On the frontier of delusion I'm your foremost frontier man."

After recording the album with other musicians, Rhys turned to composer Stephen McNeff (with whom he had been working on an opera) for orchestral arrangements recorded with a 72-piece orchestra that add color and emotional weight without overwhelming the songs. Much of the album is upbeat, with "Negative Vibes" moving with spare orchestral backing. Tracks including "The Club" are largely driven by the additional instruments, with the swelling "Architecture of Amnesia" built from an arrangement that heightens the emotion Rhys brings to the unease in his lyrics.

"No silver linings, this is the end/Get your phone out to document," Rhys sings in a duet with British actress/model Lily Cole on "Selfies in the Sunset." "Look into the mirror until the moment's right." Whether or not it's a world that one would choose, Rhys gives it a better soundtrack than it probably deserves. (www.gruffrhys.com

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