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In one of the most moving and revelatory segments of Gruff Rhys' excellent American Interior film (also released as a book and album in 2014), he travels to North Dakota to meet Edwin Benson, the last known fluent speaker of the Mandan language. The film shows Benson and his efforts to pass on this dwindling variant of the Native American language to elementary schools in the area, encouraging children to learn about their past; to preserve the language and traditions that, until very recently, were part of daily life. After they part ways, Rhys is visibly affected by this encounter - Benson embodies the fears he has about what might become of his own native language one day.

A passionate advocate of his heritage, Rhys and his Super Furry Animals are arguably the most popular and important proponents of Welsh culture today - as evidenced by the rapturous reception to the news that they would be reissuing Mwng - the only album of theirs to be written entirely in Welsh - on its 15th birthday. Mwng is still frequently cited as the best-selling Welsh language album of all time, and was the subject of a now famous Early Day Motion in the House of Commons by Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd, who called the album "a celebration of Welsh culture embracing the new wave of confidence in the Welsh nation." More on that later.

While Wales as a nation may not be quite as vocal or bombastic about its desire for political independence as Scotland, it remains passionate about the need to preserve its culture as it increasingly comes under threat from the lingua franca of English, and from the gradual erosion of the rural Welsh heartlands - the environments which originally ensured the language was passed on to new generations. And it certainly looks as if Plaid, as part of a loosely-termed and hastily-formed 'progressive alliance' - also including the SNP and the Green Party - are set for one of their best showings of recent times come May 7th. So where does Mwng, thrust anew into the public consciousness a week before a general election, fit into all of this - if indeed anywhere at all?

In 2000, Rhys stated in the NME that Mwng was "not an explicitly political statement," but that it did express some ideas about anti-capitalism, and the lack of interest shown in minority cultures by big business. Certainly it ticks all the anti-capitalist boxes: it was released following Creation Records' demise in early 2000 on the band's own Placid Casual label, apparently costing just £6,000 to make. Perhaps more tellingly, though, the band was also taking a stand against themselves: side-stepping the chart-friendly, albeit still bonkers, singles of their third album Guerrilla (in particular the exquisite 'Northern Lites', which reached number 11 in 1999). Accessible though Guerrilla was, its chart showings didn't quite live up to the band or the label's expectations for it; SFA decided they were going on a 'pop strike' for their next album. In this context, their use of Welsh begins to look less like a general anti-capitalist statement, and more like a personal and necessary act of self-preservation from a band worried about straying too far from their original intentions. One suspects that, in the end, it might have been a bit of both.

Certainly it would be difficult to pick a single from Mwng, although the comparatively jaunty 'Ysbeidiau Heulog' was released a fortnight prior to the album's release, peaking at number 89. At its heart, though, Mwng is a melancholy collection of songs, sparsely produced and with minimal instrumentation. It is also stunningly beautiful, although one tends to agree with Gruff Rhys' response to Elfyn Llwyd, MP: "it has bugger all to do with celebration." He describes it as a dark, personal record, a 'monochrome' version of the Super Furry Animals; the use of Welsh is not a gimmick, it is a return to the language he finds comfort in, the language that best accommodates his most intimate lyrics. The fact that said language is impenetrable to the majority of his listeners is another matter altogether. In a contemporary interview with BBC Wales, Rhys says that the lyrics to 'Gwreiddiau Dwfn / Mawrth Oer Ar y Blaned Neifion' are "so bleak its almost comical... about being rooted to a sad piece of land." And even the chirpy 'Ysbeidiau Heulog' is about "looking back at a bad time which had the occasional good moment." The key track lyrically appears to be 'Sarn Helen', concerning the slow demise of the Roman road of the same name; Rhys uses it here to mirror the perceived decline of Welsh traditions.

Musically, the band are at their most restrained, largely curbing the use of synths, keyboards and sound effects that so dominated Guerrilla. Instead, muted brass provides a soulful framework for both 'Y Gwyneb Iau' and the aforementioned remarkable closer 'Gwreiddiau Dwfn', and a near-Gregorian vocal arrangement permeates the stunning 'Pan Ddaw'r Wawr'. Despite its sober tone, it would not be a stretch to call Mwng the band's most accessible album (as NME did in their round-up of 2000's best), and it remains the best place to start with their groaning back catalogue, particularly if you are put off by the whistles and bells of their other work.

A second disc adds some unreleased tracks, the most intriguing of which is 'Trons Mr. Urdd', a bittersweet psychedelic ballad very much in the 'Hometown Unicorn' vein; it would sit nicely on 'Radiator', and suggests that the Mwng sessions were more fun than their end result might initially suggest (see also: the nutty Dead Kennedys-referencing 'Calimero'). There are also some suitably apocalyptic Peel Sessions tracks and live material for fans to feast on. While the extra disc doesn't necessarily serve to contextualise Mwng much further, it is nevertheless a joy to get some unreleased music of the world's most fervently creative bands. More reissues must surely be on the cards.

So, how political is Mwng? Well, lyrically, not very. And neither was it particularly intended to be. But it was appropriated by politicians last time around, and still could be now: it is being reissued on International Worker's Day (May 1st), and the band are touring it during potentially one of the most important elections for Wales in recent times. Gruff Rhys recently spoke in favour of Syriza and Podemos, and one suspects he will not hold back during the band's upcoming shows. How political is Mwng? We may be about to find out. One thing we can be certain of, though, is its beauty, which really does transcend language.

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