The 7th studio album from rugged Welsh troubadour Gruff Rhys is a loose concept album about Mount Paektu, an active volcano situated on the border between China and North Korea. It’s curious subject matter for a pop record, but one that nevertheless produces charming results. Executed with the slick piano balladry and blushing brass fanfares of plush ‘70s soft-rock (think Queen’s ‘You’re My Best Friend’ and you’re half-way there), Gruff binds his soul with mystical properties of Paektu, suggesting the mountain’s crags, rumbles and eruptions as geological metaphors for the glorious struggles of a humble human existence touched by the magnitudes of love, life and death. Oddly, these worldly themes have produced one of his more tender and restrained sounding records of recent years. ‘Seeking New Gods’ moves with a steady, awe-inspired plod, raised to the heavens by a spate of cute, highly infectious choruses (‘Can’t Carry On’, ‘Loan Your Loneliness’) and ethereal textures evocative of dreamy mountain vistas, such as on dazzlingly pretty ‘Distant Snowy Peaks’. Only on ‘The Keep’ are we offered a suggestion of any fearful reverence towards this destructive natural monument: seismic cymbal crashes and unhinged saxophones breed a moment of molten, earth-shattering magnificence in an album that prefers softer touches for the most part. Less wildly daring than its predecessors, yet remaining totally assured in its vision, ‘Seeking New Gods’ stands as another finely-crafted addition to Gruff Rhys’ illustrious repertoire.
As featured in the May 2021 issue of DIY, out now. Scroll down to get your copy.
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