Gruff Rhys – Babelsberg – 8th June

‘Babelsberg’ is somewhat of an offbeat release for the former Super Furry Animals front man, but the blending of orchestra and rock music is not a totally un-welcomed switch-up for his listeners. The idea of a post-apocalyptic dystopia, mixed with an orchestra and Gruff Rhys could lead to some trepidation, but it surprisingly works. With Rhys sounding at times like a Welsh Leonard Cohen backed with a lush orchestra, the album seems like a project of love that has been thought over for quite a while.

Opening with ‘Frontier Man’, Rhys and the orchestra makes a triumphant start to proceedings. Heading through the album, the backing of a 72 piece band elevates songs with dramatic flair and finesse. However, he does need to be careful not to be drowned by the beast that’s backing him, with his vocals warbling at times and lyrics just missing the mark in some cases.

Nevertheless, it’s somewhat comforting to hear his Welsh twang twist and turn through verses with ease in tracks like ‘Same Old Song’ and ‘The Club’, which has a nice variety of tempos, keeping the listener on their toes with the rise and fall of orchestral crescendo. ‘Drones in the City’ also crates this somewhat heavenly dystopia with smart, descriptive lyricism and cared plucking if strings to the chorus.

It’s easy to forget one or two of the songs though, perhaps as they aren’t as impactful as others, namely ‘Limited Edition Heart’. Nevertheless, it’s followed by ‘Take That Call’, which incorporates both a rock and classic aesthetic and pulls it off with ease. Rhys’ vocals bounce over, teaching words of wisdom, with an instrumental break that allows the orchestra to shine through. ‘Oh Dear!’ also does this, and has more of a rock feel to it, with a faster beat and nice blend of electric guitars and orchestra. The chorus is then given vitality with the bounding instrumentals behind the vocals.

Bringing the album to a close is ‘Selfies in the Sunset’ a tongue-in cheek glance at what the younguns would do should the world end, with references to Mel Gibson and charming harmonies illustrating a sense of love in Armageddon, it is this track that really encapsulates everything in the album. Overall it’s a really nice collection of songs, with the danger of Rhys losing his voice among the instruments just about avoided.

Photograph: Joe Singh snaprockandpop

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