I suppose I’ll never fully know how concerted my mother’s attempts were to tip the balance of my affections in favour of her thad (or fatherland, or so my slippery grasp on the Welsh lingo would have me recall) though even from a puny age, I felt remarkably Cymraeg for a young someone never to have actually lived there. And it was in no small part down to her inundating my ears with all things Welsh and wonderful, I don’t doubt: the Manics’ Everything Must Go was the soundtrack of every voyage westwards, before being (albeit belatedly) usurped by This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours in the chops of the car tapedeck. We’d go see the Super Furry Animals almost religiously and, turned out in Power Ranger helmets, slinky polyester and fluffy feet all at once more often than not, they resembled some fabled cult – one I’d have jumped at the chance to join. Its leader was one Gruff Rhys, and I’ve had something of a so-called fanboy obsession with him ever since. Something of a dashboard confessional for you, there.
And astonishingly, in spite of his prolificacy, he’s yet to produce a dud record to my ears: yes, his collaboration with South American oddball and purported VCR repairman Tony da Gatorra, The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness, veered too close to tunelessness at times, whilst his ’07 solo LP Candylion was overly sweetened to the point at which it became cloying. But never has Rhys ever compromised on eccentricity, and for that if nothing else he ought to be held in the highest of esteem.
Then however, when in 2008 he teamed up with hip Cincinnati producer Bryan Charles Hollon, aka Boom Bip to manufacture the appositely flawless Stainless Style under the guise of Neon Neon, the infatuation with his idiosyncratic caprice fully bloomed for it was as impeccable a pop record as I could remember. Even more accomplished, dare I say it, than Everything Must Go. Ddrwg, mum. It was a superficial record on the surface – a glimmering commemoration of all things ’80s. Back to the Future, and Speak & Spell, and Please amongst various other multimedial endeavours. Though scratch beneath and Stainless Style became an aberrant eulogy to a certain John Zachary DeLorean – the man behind the DMC-12 mobile to have incidentally featured in Robert Zemeckis’ ’85 flick aforementioned.
And so Neon Neon became a project altogether devoid of time, and indeed constraint. Stainless Style was a radiant work, though one which didn’t appear to be overtly relevant. Rhys would later quell craving for further work from the duo, dispiritingly stating: “I don’t know about making another Neon Neon album because it was quite a specific record about DeLorean’s life story. If we did something in the future it would have to be something different.” And mercifully, as he and Hollon speed into the now, they appear to have found another worthy muse in the again unorthodox form of Milanese communist activist and world-renowned publisher, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. If you’ve ever read a Calvino novel, or indulged in some Eco nonfiction then the likelihood is that it will have been passed down to your fair hand by the casa editrice Feltrinelli. Which, you know, makes the influence absolutely inevitable, really…
The album Lex Records are themselves to publish next month is nattily entitled Praxis Makes Perfect, and below can be found its lead single, Mid Century Modern Nightmare. Distilled down into just two minutes, all “shagpile carpet” referencing and driving synth pulses, it’s another condensation of everything unabashedly ’80s though thematically, it’s politically charged as never before. “It’s a protest against the stylistic mid-20th century cultural stranglehold that continues to clog up our pop culture and strangle our forward-minded spirits to this day” avows Rhys with utmost conviction, as he establishes himself as a vicarious acolyte of Feltrinelli’s leftwing embroilments. Though it’s this pulsating conflation of music and subject matter which will doubtless make if not a partigiano, then at the very least a Neon Neon supporter out of you. As for me, I’m forever more on the side of both Rhys, and the Welsh. Gruff am byth, blah blah blah.
Praxis Makes Perfect is anticipated April 29th on Lex Records.