Gruff Rhys has always been an expansive artist and American Interior is his most audacious production to date.
Released over four platforms – this album, a book, a movie and an app – American Interior tells the purportedly true story of Rhys’ distant relative John Evans, a 22-year-old Snowdonia farmhand who in 1792 travelled to the United States to look into rumours of the existence of a Welsh-speaking Native American tribe, the Madogwys.
Once in America, Evans had a stream of bizarre adventures, including wrestling crocodiles in Mississippi, hunting bison in Omaha and leading a mini-revolution in North Dakota. Two years ago, Rhys retraced his footsteps in a solo music tour based around an acoustic guitar and a Powerpoint presentation.
It’s a weighty conceptual burden for an album to shoulder, but Rhys has never been the most literal-minded of artists and American Interior is easily enjoyed as a standalone pleasure. In fact, bar the odd snippet of lyric, it is never entirely clear what Evans is up to, and what is going on.
Instead, it’s a finely detailed, immersive psychedelic travelogue of the kind that Rhys has been honing since he launched Super Furry Animals more than 20 years ago. 100 Unread Messages is country propelled by delirious giddy-up rhythms; The Last Conquistador melds dusty Americana and plangent electro-pop; Allweddellau Allweddol is all tribal chants, found sounds and sprung ryhthms. All are cleverly calibrated labours of love.
It’s a fantastical tall tale, told with a straight face and lashings of casual musical embellishment and innovation. Which is pretty near to a dictionary definition of Gruff Rhys.