Back in the mid 1990s Richard James was at the forefront of the burgeoning Welsh indie scene. As a founding member of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, he bucked the trend his contemporaries including Catatonia, Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals and Manic Street Preachers had set, dismissing guitar-fuelled britpop for a prog-rock/psychedelia sound.
After eight albums Gorky’s split in 2006 and, since then, enigmatic frontman Euros Childs has released a few odd-ball solo efforts; nuggets of quirky geek-pop. And now it’s time for the second solo outing from the band’s bassist and, contrary to what might be expected from the “invisible one” in the band, it’s an explorative, cosy blend of surprising folky-pop hooks.
From the off, it wraps you up in a blanket of warmth; Aveline, a love story about a girl he can’t stop thinking about, is gentle, ethereal and dreamy, and sets the tone for the rest of the album. A distinct progression from his first album, The Seven Sleepers Den, it’s more succinct and, while he digs into a few different genres, on the whole the key to its winning formula is in its simplicity. Think the Velvet Underground doing country.
Album highlights include Blues (Hey Hey Hey), a growling, lusty track that Seasick Steve would give up his one stringed diddley bow for, and Faces, a distorted, chaotic, country-influenced yomp. Yes Her Smile’s Like A Rose is a rush of banjo played against a rolling Highlands backing and an authentic snarling vocal.
Album closer From Morning Sunshine features former bandmate Childs and singer/songwriter and Neon Neon collaborator Cate Le Bon, who lends a Nico-esque vocals to this sparse, almost eerie ballad. It’s a teary come-down after the ups and downs of the rest of the record.
For Gorky’s fans this all gives an insight into where the band could have gone. It lacks Euros Childs’ kooky, spacey take on life but it’s not such a departure that his heritage is unrecognisable. Like Gorky’s at their best, We Went Riding is upbeat with a sprinkling of melancholy and edges to the left of centre, firing the imagination.