In the 1990s, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci were a peculiar Welsh group, influenced by prog and psychedelia, that nearly made it to the mainstream thanks to the radio support of Simon Mayo, Mark Radcliffe and John Peel. Richard James played bass for the band, but since 2006, the year that they split, he has been releasing his own songs, many of them full of the poppy hooks and folk textures that Gorkys once had. On the strength of this record, it is time for his talents to be recognised in their own right.
We Went Riding is James' second LP after 2006's The Seven Sleepers Den, and it offers many more colours and tones than his soft, sublime debut. It begins with Aveline, a tender love song to a girl who is always "in his mind", which slowly builds an eerie, ethereal mood, minor chords and melancholic sighs pointing to the depths that lie behind simple sentiments. James also plays with other genres elsewhere. Blues (Hey Hey Hey) is a swampy, two-chord growler about a girl that's "got me moving" that develops into a cacophony of noise, while Yes Her Smile's Like a Rose is lovely, but spiky, banjo-driven country. James' voice is always a comforting presence, however, a boy-next-door longing for love, then straining gently on the leash with lust.
James also brings in old and new friends to swell the ranks, and the atmosphere here is often one of joyful collaboration. Former Gorkys frontman Euros Childs lends his backing vocals throughout, while rising solo artist and Neon Neon collaborator Cate Le Bon joins James for From Morning Sunshine. A song tracking the passage of the day between two lovers, and an unknown element that may ultimately keep them apart, James only appears halfway through - singing "we were always waiting for a rainy day" - as Le Bon remembers, very movingly, the time they were together.
When James appears, it is a gorgeous moment, revealing an artist who knows when best to stay in the shadows, as well as saunter to the stage, which says much about his musical past, as well as his beguiling present. Long may he continue to take us with him, in and out of the spotlight, wherever he goes.