Gruff Rhys, “Frontier Man” (Rough Trade)
Gruff Rhys has served as front man for Super Furry Animals—roughly speaking, the Blur of Wales—since 1993, slightly weirding up the Britpop blueprint with odd textures and wonky sound effects. SFA privilege melody, but their rhythms occasionally rival some of Beck's funkiest tracks. On his latest solo LP, Babelsberg, Rhys scales back the zaniness and aims for a more classicist approach to singer/songwriter tropes, with orchestral flourishes hinting at a deep appreciation of John Barry soundtracks and Love's Forever Changes.
Rhys recently performed in London with a large orchestra, but for his upcoming US tour—which includes an October 20 date at Barboza—the guitarist will have former Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock, bassist Stephen Black, and pianist Osian Gwynedd in tow. Economic realities are a bummer, but Rhys's mutedly grandiose songs should ensure a quality show, regardless.
Speaking of which, "Frontier Man" represents the pinnacle of Rhys's balladeering prowess. Its ambling tempo, wryly glum storytelling, soaring, string-buoyed chorus, and female-vocal interplay (courtesy of Lisa Jên and Mirain Haf from Welsh folk group 9Bach) evidence his allegiance to peak Lee Hazlewood. One pictures Rhys riding a horse toward the vanishing point at sundown as this song winds to its poignant conclusion.