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Breezy, Complicated Pop Music

Gruff Rhys's 'Candylion.'

By Elaine Corden 9 Aug 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Elaine Corden writes regularly on pop culture and music for The Tyee. She regularly discusses music and media villainousness on her blog, Trifective.

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Candylions, tigers and bears.

"Candylion was raised by bears in Micronesia. Trained as a chef in Paris and following a City & Guilds diploma in desktop publishing at Tregoedwig Polytechnic, he transformed himself into a card assembly image of his former self, and arranged for the kind lady at the post depot to mail him back flat-pack to his bear brothers and sisters. Safely back in the palm forest, he was given lessons in exotic guitar pickin' by a passing oxymoron. He is currently recording his first album."

So reads the MySpace page for Candylion, the latest record from Gruff Rhys, better known as the front man for Welsh psychedelic space-rock band Super Furry Animals. Typical of anything Super Furries-related, it's equal parts nonsense and genius, conjuring alternate universes and woodland druids.

In short: it's weird, dude.

This is the second solo effort from Rhys, who, amazingly seems to have ideas that fall outside of the Super Furries' boundlessly creative group dynamic. Rhys's first record, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (The Stuttering Generation), was released two years ago on the Super Furries Placid Casual label, and it's fair to say it was a complete departure from his band's sound -- purposefully lo-fi, and devoid of any of the Super Furries trademark layered harmonies and wall-of-sound styling, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth was a fairly sparse, modern folk record, sung all in Welsh. Even for the biggest SFA fan, it was challenging.

Candylion (released on the always-reliable Rough Trade Records), by contrast, is a warm embrace to fans of Rhys's band -- full of strange sounds, Pet Sounds pop stylings and, of course, Rhys soothing, distinct burr.

There are almost too many good moments on this album to pick a favourite. The title track is an iPod-friendly, bouncy tune, featuring Welsh chanteuse Lisa Jen on vocals and mini-xylophone. "Lonesome Words," a much more substantial song, recalls seminal '60s mavericks Love, and less obvious touchstones, such as Scott Walker, art-house Sci-Fi flicks and episodes of Pigs in Space. Welsh-language single "Gyrru, Gyrru, Gyrru" is as delightful an incomprehensible song as you're ever likely to hear, and "Cycle of Violence" is classic Rhys -- both overtly political and eminently listenable (a rare combo).

What stands out most is just how casual Rhys appears to sound -- the overarching tone is breezy and light, as if Rhys just wrote all these beautiful, complicated songs while singing to himself in the car. If it weren't such a cheery record, you'd almost be frightened that, as Candylion proves, Rhys has an entire galaxy up there in his brain, and more ideas than even his fabulous day-job provides for.

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