Lead-off single “Celestial Candyfloss” is a telling four minute glimpse of the forthcoming album, revealing the heady wonders and classic pop sounds within. Soaring strings carry the sweet melodies along, anchored by just enough necessary melancholy to add emotional ballast. The eye-popping video was created by long-time collaborator Mark James and compliments the scope and style of the song on a galactic scale.
“Celestial Candyfloss” is, Gruff says, “an attempted pocket symphony about the cosmic lengths that people will travel in the pursuit of love and acceptance. Mark James has brought the Sadness Sets Me Free album cover to life & managed to place me watching TV interference in a shipping container that’s lost in space. For what is apparently the 25th album I’ve had a hand in writing I’ve reverted to a rich seam of inspiration relating to shedding some light on sadness and the general terror of cosmic loneliness.”
And so it was that Gruff and his band – Osian Gwynedd (piano), Huw V Williams (double bass) and former Flaming Lips drummer turned Super Furry Animals archivist Kliph Scurlock (drums) piled into a van driven by the late, legendary tour manager “Dr” Kiko Loiacono and raced from Dunkirk, where they had just played the final show of a tour of Spain and France, to the outskirts of Paris in the early hours of a March morning in 2022. There, in La Frette Studios, a recording facility installed in a 19th-century house, Gruff and his road-hardened group tracked “Sadness Sets Me Free” in just three days. Backing vocals were added along the way by Kate Stables from This Is The Kit along with additional strings and orchestration and it was mixed between Marseille and Cardiff. What finally emerged from these intense bouts of cross-continental activity was Gruff’s most accomplished and beautiful record to date.
In a career that has taken him from the slate-mining towns of north-west Wales, down to the expat communities of Patagonia, up to the Mandan tribe of the Great Plains of North America and across to the Tuareg rock groups of the Saharan Desert, Gruff Rhys, one of Britain’s most beloved and successful singer-songwriters, has always been willing to follow an opportunity, wherever it may lead him. “At this point I quite like working with serendipity,” he says. “Not in a cosmic way, [but] I try and leave things open to chance encounters and chance geography. As I’m around 25 albums in I’m always looking for ways to make a different-sounding record”