It’s easy to be a little blasé about Gruff Rhys. He doesn’t really release bad records, to the point that another good Gruff Rhys record can be taken for granted. Such was the case with ‘American Interior’, an album which accompanies his DVD, book and actual journey charting the life of Welsh explorer John Evans. Having found myself lured into purchasing the deluxe box set edition of the release, which was then a little late arriving and contained a faulty LP when it did, my initial experiences with this record were not especially conducive to instant adoration. Indeed, my early reaction was built around the simple acknowledgement that I liked it and knew which track I’d probably use on playlists. And then it all went quiet. Sitting on high in its deluxe box, it slipped off the radar and I pretty much forgot about it. That this happened may explain why the album is at the lower end of this list rather than scaling the heights, but thankfully I returned to it whilst sorting out the runners and riders and its charms – shorn of expectation – shone through. It’s no ‘Hotel Shampoo’, but then let’s not be picky.
The jangling giddy-up of ‘100 Unread Messages’, which weaves modern technology into the more historical narrative rather neatly, contrasts splendidly with the more languid ‘The Swamp’ on an album which, and again this is very much the Gruff template, pursues a variety of musical styles, each with great success. ‘The Last Conquistador’ has the same squelchy throwback feel of ‘Rings Around The World’ era Super Furries, while ‘The Whether (Or Not)‘ feels like one of the weird, part rocker, part electro-freakouts that make ‘Guerilla’ such a magnificent listen. ‘Iolo’ could be ‘Casanova’ era Divine Comedy but for one of the most distinctive voices in modern music repeating the title endlessly across the top of most of it.
‘American Interior’ is a lovely, often beautiful, album which seems to mark Gruff having found his place. Where ‘Candylion’ toned down the rabid ideasmageddon of ‘Yr Atal Genhedlaeth’, and ‘Hotel Shampoo’ tightened up the noodling charms of ‘Candylion’, this seems like a logical and expected step forward, subject matter aside, from its predecessor. This is no bad thing, but it feels like the time to be surprised by Gruff has passed. Now we can revel in his many talents, delight in his knack for melody and make a risk-free purchase every couple of years. I’m certainly not complaining.