A couple of days ago while wandering through the high streets of Leeds, I stopped into Crash Records – a charming indie store, albeit one with a strange predilection for punk and metal. This time around, though, the shop stereo was playing an uncharacteristically weird, spiralling, fuzzed-up Motorik jam, that had me entranced for what seemed like twenty minutes; when I asked at the counter what I’d just browsed along with, the clerk held up a familiarly multicoloured sleeve – although I’d dismissed it as needlessly freaky when it came out last year, it seems I’d been happily grooving to Dark Days/Light Years, the last Super Furry Animals LP. If I thought that was too strange at the time, I’ve got my work cut out for me with Gruff Rhys’s latest venture
A collaboration with one of his heroes – a Brazilian TV repairman named Tony Da Gatorra who has a sideline in quasi-hippy protest rock – the ten songs on The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness make up the strangest record Gruff Rhys has ever put his name to – this from a man whose back catalogue includes an electropop concept album about John DeLorean. There’s no sign of the pastoral anthems that SFA do best, though there’s a clear divide (unsurprisingly along the lines of the language barrier) between the contributions of Da Gatorra and Rhys.
Da Gatorra’s songs, performed mostly on his self-designed ‘gatorra’ – “part drum machine, part guitar,” says the press release – are what you might call outsider art: unstructured and spontaneous, rhythmic and hypnotic, if somewhat lacking in the tune department. The clattering percussion of ‘Espirito Luz’ sounds like The Normal’s ‘TVOD’ gone tropical, while with the right remix, ‘Rap Verdade’ could end up as a Shoreditch smash. His lyrics, entirely in Portuguese, use the same keywords throughout – “Los hipocritos! Egoismo! Violencia!”, he screams in the industrial squall of ‘Eu Protesto’, as Rhys wails wordlessly underneath. It sets out his political stall, but sounds less like a convincing protest song than an old man shouting at the news.
Rhys, meanwhile, sounds like he’s doing what he always does, but taking on Da Gatorra’s idiosyncracies as a somewhat limiting template – a bit like a sculptor making a statue out of Play-Doh. ’6868′, his tribute to the French student riots, is slightly embarrassing, though with a bit more spit and polish, ‘Oh! Warra Hoo!’ could have been a Super Furries classic, though its lo-fi presentation and distorted skronk does possess a singular charm. Still, the single ‘In a House With No Mirrors (You’ll Never Get Old)’ is a gem – a vintage slab of digital psychedelia, the sound of Roky Erickson armed with a cheap drum machine.
Overall, The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness is undoubtedly fascinating, and the kind of record you can tell Rhys has been dying to make for some time – his excitement at working with one of his idols is palpable throughout. The end product, however, isn’t necessarily as engaging as its creators hoped it would be, and its limited edition release ensures that this is most definitely one for the fans only.