ALBUM REVIEW: Gruff Rhys - Sadness Sets Me Free

4.0 rating
Gruff Rhys - Sadness Sets Me Free

Gruff Rhys releases his new album Sadness Sets Me Free on Rough Trade Records. Amazingly, this is the 25th album he has released in his 35-year career, individually and collaboratively, and as a member of various bands.

His current band consists of Osian Gwynedd on piano, Huw V Williams on double bass, and former Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock on drums. It was recorded in La Frette Studios, a residential recording studio in a 19th-century mansion on the outskirts of Paris. Kate Stables provides backing vocals from This Is The Kit, along with additional strings and orchestration.

The album kicks off with the title track Sadness Set Me Free. This is a country-style ballad with a kooky feel, sung in that soothing Welsh lilt. It is melancholic and dramatic, with a velvety production that abounds throughout. Bad Friend is orchestrated and jaunty with an addictive refrain: 'Yes, I'm a bad friend, but maybe bad friends are still friends' that you can't help tapping along to. He sings of being a bad friend but will be there at the end.

Lead single Celestial Candyfloss is jazzy funk with elements of Steely Dan, a quirky guitar played, and an upbeat feel about it. Silver Lining, Lead Balloons, has a metronomic beat that reminds me of the band Stereolab's song 'Ping Pong.' Beguiling melodies are imbued with violins and horns. Further funk comes along in They Sold My Home To Build A Skyscraper. It's like the soundtrack to a '70s cop show with tropical elements. The happy samba-style beat contrasts nicely against this story of redevelopment and power.

This album grows on me the further I go on. Peace Signs is my favourite; it has a kind of Roxy Music/David Bowie 'Changes' feel to it. This dips and dives, and Rhys is not afraid to experiment with deviations in rhythm and melody. This seems tranquil on the surface, but much is going on beneath as emotions drop and then soar. This is celestial and shimmering, with gorgeous female harmonies.

Cover Up The Cover Up, a song about the government and power infuses oriental-style pianos with subtle hints of synth. There are crystal-cut vocals and harmonies that drift in and out of the song effortlessly—the synths pitter-patter throughout with the effect of melting honey. I Tendered My Resignation is another enchanting song with a galactic, starry-eyed landscape. Despite the tale of a relationship breaking down and other themes in the album, it retains an optimistic feel. I'll Keep Singing is a grand finale. As the name suggests, it is absolutely joyous and rousing. A gorgeous piano dominates the topography of the song. This and the orchestration build until a horn section arrives for the cosmic finish.

I admit, it took a few listens to get into some of this album. But gradually, it did. Sadness Sets Me Free combines interstellar melodic harmonies with lavish orchestration that float together on a heavenly plain. Music, as we know, has the ability to not only be cathartic but to transform you to other states and worlds. This does that with heavenly bells on.


Xsnoize Author
Sandra Blemster 98 Articles
Sandra mainly writes about indie/rock bands and has written many features, album reviews and interviews for XS Noize. Favourite bands and albums is a long list but to name a few Horslips, REM, Love, The Doors, Let It Bee – Voice of the Beehive, Velvet Underground and Nico album. (Ozric Tentacles live), October Drift. Sandra likes yoga, reading a good book, watching films, Netflix and drinking wine.

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