Gary Raymond listens to The Almond and the Seahorse, the new album from Welsh music legend, Gruff Rhys.
Bad music is the sound you hear over the Tannoy at the graveyard of ideas. Bad music is cynical, devoid of curiosity, focused on unit-shifting, on career-building. Good music is full of curiosity. Full of ideas. Full of life. Gruff Rhys makes good music. And he makes a great deal of it. This new album, the soundtrack to the 2022 Celyn Jones and Tom Sterne movie The Almond and Seahorse, is in some regards and archetypal Gruff Rhys album in that it is full of ideas, some half-formed, some half-realised, some go on a bit too long, some are just flickering snits in the night sky, but the thing taken as a whole remains a glimmering reminder of what a superb craftsman Rhys is, what a visionary he is, and what a treasure his talent is.
Indeed, Rhys’s approach to song-writing is so deceptively simple you have to wonder why more people aren’t this good at it. He finds a rolling riff, builds a melody on top of it, finds some nice hooks that offer a nice mix of harmony and discord, stick a good rhythm section in the back of it, and there you have a track. At his absolute best, be it with the Super Furries or solo on American Interiors, or Stainless Style with Neon Neon, a sharp focus produces some of the best pop songs of the last thirty years. When he is less focussed, the languid shy swagger of his approach to making records is simply a delight that relishes the absence of big statements. The Almond and the Seahorse, enjoying the “bitty” nature of soundtrack albums, is the sort of album that brings in the dawn, that comes in and out of focus, and one full of delicious moments of surprise.
It opens with a brief moment of intensity, a cello bringing to mind Elgar’s concerto for that instrument no less, setting things up for an impressionist’s take on the themes of the movie – memory, human connections across time and space, the rebuilding of life. And Rhys is great when given a springboard like this. He is an ekphrastic artist, creating sonic journeys inspired by the detritus he finds on the launching dock.
This album moves quickly, and Rhys is soon back to his love of 80s synthetiser pop, and then onto that languid live sound that makes up so much else of his oeuvre. It’s great to hear the full textures of cinema laid flat on the disc. I haven’t enjoyed a movie dialogue sample on a track like the one on “The Brain and the Body” this much since Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis got all homicidal-smoochy at the end of Bob Dylan’s cover of “You Belong To Me” on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack in the nineties. It’s a tricky art, getting that right; but when it works…
The Almond and the Seahorse as an album is a long listen, but it is a good companion. Taken isolated from the movie it remains full of rich tapestries, musical joys, and more than a few times, an entire, fully-formed, cracking song.
The Almond and the Seahorse is available now.