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Gruff Rhys & Tony Da Gatorra
The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness Ross Pounds , August 5th, 2010 13:16

[<]Too many fingers, not enough pies. That's always seemed to be the case with Gruff Rhys, a man of indisputable and quite considerable talent but also one cursed with the attention span of an ADD-addled toddler whose parents have lost the Ritalin again. An avuncular, witty presence capable of odd moments of brilliance, it's always seemed to the case that the thing Rhys lacks above all else is that voice which tells you when to stop, that maybe a concept album about John Delorean isn't a great idea, or that bashing out an album with a Brazilian VCR repairman in five hours might need a bit more thought. It's all well and good having a fun time with your friends in the studio, but it's not as great when you inflict the resulting collaboration on a wavering public who have no idea what you might turn out next. Rhys, thanks in large part to his work with Super Furry Animals, is one of those musicians who will always have an audience, a cultish hardcore of fans who'll always buy his work and defend it to the hilt, no matter how batshit crazy or plain mediocre it might be. He'll always have easy ears on hand, assuring voices (and wallets) who'll tell him that he's still a genius, still an eccentric mastermind, and not a middle-aged man masquerading as a loveable oddball whose best work is at least a decade behind him.

If he had an editor, someone who told him that his zanier ideas might be best kept between the four walls of the studio then perhaps releases like this wouldn't seem so tiresome, coming on like a neglected child constantly poking the leg of a tired parent, the novelties of a new baby having worn off and the day-to-day tedium of looking after it having set in. Perhaps if he released these as EP's, curios and addendums to career-summarising compilations or free downloads for fans, it'd be more tolerable, but it's got to the point where these elaborate in-jokes just aren't funny anymore, or particularly relevant. In fact, it's become slightly embarrassing.

That's not to say that The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness is a terrible album, it's just not particularly good. It feels rather throwaway, an album made on a whim, the inevitable result of Rhys' blind adoration for Tony Da Gatorra, an ageing hippy outsider and ardent peacenik who seems to have been given free reign to do whatever he likes here. It's not an album as avant garde as it thinks it is, or as crazy as its title or cover might suggest. It's noisy and abrasive, but not in a good way. It's probably fair to suggest that a sizeable amount of drugs were taken during its planning and recording, which might go some way to explaining the complete lack of quality control and the fact that what ideas there are here are all over the place. The seven-minute long 'O Que Tu Tem' is a case in point. Da Gattora's wild-eyed chanting is layered over some droning guitar squalls and occasionally frenetic drums, beeps and tape hiss hidden behind the clamour. It's like listening to Wooden Shjips whilst having a crazy old man shout nonsense in your ear, and it feels like it goes on forever. That formula is then repeated throughout the album, deviating occasionally into noodling, ambling interludes, abstract sound collages that do nothing more than fill space and time ('O V N I', which sounds a lot like an old-fashioned internet dial-up tone, and it's companion piece, the album closer '(Peidiwch ac) O V N I') and tracks which feature Rhys' singing rather than Da Gattora's incessant ramblings. What highpoints there are come when Rhys' voice comes to the fore. Never the strongest weapon in his arsenal, it's nonetheless blessed relief here. It might be flat and monotonous but it's a thousand times more listenable than Da Gattora's unhinged, cauldron-ready preaching.

On '6868' and standout track 'In A House With No Mirrors (You'll Never Get Old)' we see brief glimpses of the talent which has sustained Rhys' career for the past twenty years. The former is heavily indebted to New York No Wave, and wouldn't sound out of place buried somewhere in the middle of a Suicide album, it's subtle throb and shards of noise combining excellently with Rhys' shamanic, dead-eyed chanting, coming on like Alan Vega moonlighting in a DNA covers band. 'In A House…' is the closest thing the album has to a proper song, Rhys' voiced underpinned by a propulsive, motorik rhythm and a wall of guitar fuzz which sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain if they'd grown up listening to Mars rather than Phil Spector songs. It's lyrics, inevitably, are total gibberish (“In a room full of turtles/you stood on a toad”) but chime perfectly with the semi-improvised track behind them.

And that's really about it. Maybe some people 'get' Tony Da Gattora and some don't. Rhys obviously heard something he liked, enough to hunt him down and record with him. In the end The Terror of Cosmic Loneliness seems like little more than a vanity project, a valiant, well-intentioned attempt to bring a musician and genuine man-of-the-world to broader attention and acclaim. It's the latest in a long line of collaborations for its creator, and another that doesn't really come off. As always, there are flashes of genuine talent, but the worry now is that those flashes are becoming ever rarer. Rhys needs to find his mojo again, to stop fooling around and locate that special something which bought him to our attention in the first place, before that undeniable talent disappears.

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