Gruff Rhys has gone into extracurricular overdrive. In the past five years, he's released more solo albums and side projects than he has discs with his long-time band Super Furry Animals. Retreating from Welsh experimentalism of Yr Atal Genhedlaeth
(2005) and the indie twee of Candylion
(2007), Rhys's third and best solo effort may be his most classically (and accessibly) pop. Points of reference include the Church of Brian Wilson ("Honey All Over"), French-horn-fueled Bacharachisms ("Take a Sentence"), and Zombies chamber pop ("Vitamin K"). For good measure, "Shark Ridden Waters" samples the Cyrkle's cover of "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," a Bacharach chestnut. Rhys has never been more infectious than he is on the horn-driven "Sensations in the Dark." "At the Heart of Love" boasts one of his most beautiful melodies, and "Christopher Columbus" and "Patterns of Power" give credence to neo-go-go and neo-psych, respectively. Perhaps Damon Albarn is the only songwriter from last century's Britpop posse who continues to rival Rhys in the font-of-creativity department. Yet Rhys is the ex-Britpopper making music that doesn't sound like dreary London fog - and as any New Englander reeling from a long hard winter's ass kick will tell you, that's an advantageous distinction.