Gruff Rhys: Seeking New Gods review – A mountain worth climbing

The Welsh man’s playful, graceful seventh solo album takes Mount Paektu as its theme

Seeking New Gods
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Artist: Gruff Rhys
Genre: Rock
Label: Rough Trade

Gruff Rhys’s seventh solo record was originally based around the concept of biography – not of a person but of Mount Paektu on the border of China annd North Korea. Biography has often inspired Rhys to write his way into albums, whether about inventor John DeLorean (Stainless Style) or publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (Praxis Makes Perfect). Seeking New Gods is no exception.

Themes of intimacy and the personal fold in to create a compelling interplay between geology and humanity, memory and time. There is so much to enjoy here, all delivered through a hazy ambient wash; Rhys’s deep voice dancing amid jangling brass on Mausoleum of My Former Self, the choral elements underpinning the jaunty Can’t Carry On, the title track’s louche guitar and pensive vocal, and the scuzzy sound of Hiking in Lightning.

There are many influences, from Roedelius to Michael Rother, and Holiest of The Holy Men brings to mind a more elegant Supertramp, while Loan Your Loneliness sounds like a synth-led Marc Bolan stomping around space. There is a playfulness and grace at work on this record, with songs such as The Keep sounding almost childlike, and Everlasting Joy has a lovely loping quality amid mournful piano, paying homage to “the sacred mountain of the revolution”.

Album closer Distant Snowy Peaks surprises, with its delicacy and sense of tentative hopefulness – it is a celestial pathway, and an apposite composition in anxious times.

Siobhán Kane

Siobhán Kane is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture