As Gruff Rhys points out in his song-by-song analysis of Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, his first solo outing away from Super Furry Animals, translation can be a hurdle of discontent or a gift of serendipity. Many of the album’s songs are already built around involved puns in their native Welsh; explaining the complex wordplay can either enhance the lyrical gymnastics or deflate them completely. For instance, Rhys describes the record’s title as “a play on words that doesn’t really translate”: Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, literally “The Stopped Generation”, refers to a Welsh term for contraception; however, “atal” also means “stuttering”, so the simultaneous translation is “The Stuttering Generation”. If you don’t speak the language, you may not particularly care about the double meanings and cheeky puns, but just think of how many tricks of the tongue will therefore go completely unnoticed and unappreciated because of the language barrier.
Discussing the beautiful discrepancies of language shouldn’t consume an initial reaction to Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, so I’ll continue to ponder that in private for now. As we’ve all been told by guidance counselors and sickeningly optimistic music teachers since elementary school, music is, like, a universal language, man, that will help us, like, all come together and accept each other’s differences and be the soundtrack, like, to utopia, man. Rhys’s Super Furry Animals began as a Welsh-language band (composing songs in English after pressure from Creation Records); they would later release Mwng, their chart-topping (in Wales) garage-psych opus of sorts. Like Mwng, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth voids any potential lyrical confusion for the non-Welsh with melodic enlightenment and a pervasive effervescence. And much like its humble length (not quite 30 minutes), Yr Atal Genhedlaeth is uncomplicated: the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink insanity of Super Furry Animals’ records has been stripped and gutted, leaving basic, unadorned foundations and skeletons of song and craft. The stakes are lower, the vibe is looser; expectations seem to be an intangible in another vocabulary. It’s a welcomed deconstruction.
Yr Atal Genhedlaeth is so bereft of embellishments that its songs scrape by with the bare essentials: rhythm and melody. “Gwn Mi Wn” relies solely on a bench-pressing drum beat and vocals; the rhythm is forceful and the tune is instantly accessible. The remaining songs require little else — some guitars, a bass, the occasional keyboard or sampler. The aerodynamic reductionism does wonders for the breezy ’50s-inspired rockers like the giddy “Epynt” and the energetic, sample-strewn “Pwdin Wy 1”. “Ambell Waith”, an acoustic ballad that would have fit nicely on Super Furry Animals’ Phantom Power, adds a satiny Bacharach trumpet solo to its mix; “Caerffosiaeth” shimmies with crudely electronique Dr. Who-isms. And “Ni Yw Y Byd” will coax the wallflowers into mid-floor congregation, its laidback sing-a-long (loose translation: “Let’s confuse our contemporaries, because we are the world / Let’s prepare for revolution, because we are the world”) undeniably boisterous. If the world was currently embracing a Welsh-psych lo-fi movement, “Ni Yw Y Byd” would be its “Hey Jude”.
When all is said and done, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth isn’t nearly as essential as the many milestones in the Super Furry Animals’ catalog, nor does it aspire to be. Like other solo albums of its mild caliber (say, McCartney for easy reference), it succeeds on boatloads of charm and flashes of supreme excellence. If, as a songwriter, Rhys isn’t necessarily breaking new ground here, he’s certainly double-parked in its general vicinity. Yr Atal Genhedlaeth is all smiles: When that recorder/flute solo busts out in “Ni Yw Y Byd”, doubly implying that we get happy and get sardonic, it’s ridiculous and flighty and groovy and somehow inspiring. Language differences aside, we really have no other choice but to embrace songs that are so intrinsically contagious.