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There's something about the Super Furry Animals. Sure, there's probably something about most bands, but this album really shows it. Even from the reviews you can see the humour- Gruff Rhys said the band only wanted to play live outside when promoting this album because wind gives it "a more natural Dolby Surround Sound". Also slightly more revealing was that Rhys also said that there was less mastering and general faffing around on this album, leaving it more naturally Super Furryish.
The album begins with classic funky Furry riff, with Gruff's falsetto over the top. It eventually comes in at around 6 minutes, showing that the album truly isn't an annotated version. The wall-of-sound Cardiff In The Sun and the relentless Pric at the end also show it, with both clocking up around 8 or 9 minutes.
But it's not just about funky solos and wig outs. The usual Beach Boys-esque numbers exist in the form of Mt., Where Do You Want To Go? and Lliwiau Llachar (Bright Colours). The almost Motown bubbly pop of Helium Hearts (sample lyric: "chin, chin, chin, what do you bring?") apparently muses on the fact that everything on the human face has its use. Except the chin. Only the Furries could make this sound lovely and charming, and make you want to take them home to meet your nan.
The stomp-rock is represented by Inconvenience and White Socks/Flip Flops, the former seeming quite dark, the latter more upbeat (and you'd hope so with a title like that). There's a dash of Eastern influence in The Very Best of Neil Diamond, which sounds like a left over from Gruff's side project Neon Neon, and incidentally, it was the working title for the album, until it was said that Neil Diamond might not be best pleased.
The highlight of the album however is Inaugural Trams- a song about the implementation of trams in a fictional Continental European city (sample lyric: "let us celebrate this monumental achievement, we have reduced emissions by 75%), it features Nick McCarthy from Franz Ferdinand as a tram conductor announcing the next stops. I kid you not. All in all, it's odd, completely endearing yet paradoxically slightly annoying- a bit like being poked in the face by a puppy.
If you could use the oft-used phrase in football, given to those on top of their game that "He's really enjoying his football", you can see that the Furries really are enjoying their music. Here's to another 9 albums!
It can't be a coincidence that, just as Super Furry Animals have a new album out, the sun starts shining again.
This, their ninth effort, continues their run of consecutive brilliant
albums which dates back to...well, their first one! Since their 1996
debut Fuzzy Logic, the Furries' sound has evolved into a
technicolour brand of futuristic pop which, in terms of both ambition
and warmth, ranks alongside The Beatles.
They are a band who hold world records not for sales figures, but for becoming the first band to play gigs in full surround sound, having the most swear words in a single ever (The Man Don't Give A Fuck), released the most successful welsh language album ever, had the longest ever title for an EP, which I won't even try and spell out, being the first band ever to release an album in surround sound on DVD and CD.
They also happen to have entered administration after they left major label heights in 2005, that could have been averted had they allowed Coca-Cola to use "Hello Sunshine" in one of their ads (they were offered £2 million) and have had more side projects than I have fingers.
After 2005's Love Kraft and 2007's Hey Venus the band had definately mellowed out. Summery acid drenched pop engulfed Venus! and the album was a short sweet pop album, deadly catchy!
In a time where bands make a few decent songs on an album and fill the rest with shit, SFA yet again put together 12 top tunes, some epic, some short and sweet, but most importantly, solid and no fillers at all.
The attacked arsenal of genres here include Beach Boys harmony pop, Krautrock, synth pop, electronica, techno, middle eastern music, folk and glam rock.
Guitarist and Jesus look-a-like "Bunf" opens the album with a stomping epic "Crazy Naked Girls", with bubbly drums and one hell of a groove, it is easily one of the best songs he's written and sung in SFA, the best appearing later in the album.
6 and a half minutes later, the direction is shifted as the band's DJ and keyboard player Cian takes lead vocals for "Mt", a concise glam rock number which I think is like "Golden Retriever" with strings. The harmonies on this are excellent.
Third song in and lead singer Gruff Rhys gets to take to the mic. "Moped Eyes" is a woozy chilled song built around a thumpy drum and keyboard rythm. Harmonies galore, and a very catchy chorus line make this a classic SFA pop song.
Bubbly synths gap the transition into "Inagural Trams" which
could easily have been on Gruffs last side project "Neon Neon". Synths
and drum loops work their way through this incredibly catchy tune,
about the opening of a tram route in a German town. Making an
appearance half way through is Franz Ferdinands Nick McCarthy, doing a
robotic "rap" in German. Repetitive, catchy, it sounds like all the happiness in the world has been squeezed into this one.
After "Trams", the Furry guitars begin squealing and the feedback volume grows. "Inconvinience" is growling, with Gruff singing about practically everything that annoys him in the world, including "Tory scum" and oil prices. Sung at quite fast pace, this is almost a rap by Gruffs standards. The guitar riffs build up into a meaty sounding solo, capped off by drumming rythms that echo a live recording setting.
First half of the album out of the way, it only gets better and better. Spooky noises take us into "Cardiff in the Sun", a blissed out build up of Beach Boys harmony, and sunny background noises, "sha la la's" and a very distorted vocal effect making Gruff sound like hes underwater.
After 8 minutes of sun, it seems obvious that the next song ventures towards the Middle East. The hilariously titled "The Very Best of Neil Diamond" begins with an Turkish Fez riff, as played by Bunf. The beat drifts away and lyrics are almost inaudible, as the song is about a bomb blast in Turkey that destroys everything but a radio, which is heard playing Neil Diamond songs from under the rubble. The song quickly turns into a metal sounding rompfest before returning to the eastern flavoured riffs.
Next up is probably my favourite song on the album, the short, snappy, lush and soulful gem "Helium Hearts". The song recalls "Juxtaposed With U", a past single and a live favourite. Lush strings, a nice underlying message about the joy of love and becoming a parent and a hilarious transition into Gruff on helium repeating the title.
Still on a roll of brilliant songs as the album continues, Bunf is back on lead vocals and songwriting duties for "White Socks/Flip Flops", which is his best song hes done in the Furries. A very groovey riff and beat swirls around this epic, which could go on forever. Synths carry up into the chorus shouts, and then twirl back down to earth, as do the monster drumming from Daf.
Next comes a nice quick typical SFA folky pop song,"Where Do You Wanna Go", followed by "Lliwiau Llachar", the only fully Welsh song here.Both these songs use the same backing track, but carry totally different moods and harmonies. These two probably come out the weakest on the album for me, if they were on any other album coming out now they would probably be highlights, but here they sound very overshadowed by sprawling groovy epics.
Every Furry album since 1997s "Radiator" has featured an epic closer in one way or another, usually all starting in one place and ending on another planet. "Pric" is no different, lasting over 9 minutes, the journey here is of techno orientation, building grooves and the shouty line in welsh which translates kindly as "I'm as much of a Prick as you are!". About half way through the 9 minute run time, the rythms dissolve, and the song is transformed into 5 minutes of ambient noise, taken from Aphex Twins book.
As NME says, SFA are "loved by many, hated by virtually noone". Pushing boundaries continuously for the past 15 years, creating 9 albums of "Beatles mixed with techno and glam rock" music, hailed by U2s "Edge", Snow Patrol and Kaiser Chiefs as this generations Beatles and continuing to be passionate about doing their own thing and not giving a fuck about what happens after.
Super Furry Animals really are the victims of their own success. After a string of fantastic albums, it was inevitable that they would run out of creative juice, and 'Love Kraft' and 'Hey Venus!' were both slightly underwhelming. So it's good to know that they've managed to capture their vigour again on 'Dark Days/Light Years'.
Perhaps Gruff's time in Neon Neon has helped, but this is certainly an album bouncing with life and energy. However, it starts slowly - 'Crazy Naked Girls' and 'Mt' and both too long and too slow, especially for album openers. Things don't really get going until 'Inaugural Trams' with its fairground noises, lyrics about designing a new town 'in the image of your face' and a rap in German from Franz Ferdinand's Nick McCarthy. It really does sit up there with the best of SFA's back-catalogue.
Other highlights for me include the trippy 'Cardiff in the Sun', the Arabic-sounding 'The Very Best of Neil Diamond' and the psycho-pop wonder that is 'White Socks/Flip Flops'. And I'd never thought I'd say this, but songs in Welsh make a welcome return with 'Lliwiau Llacher' and 'Pric'.
We should really cherish SFA - I can't think of another band that pour so much imagination into their music.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Crazy Naked Girls
3 Moped Eyes
4 Inaugural Trams
6 Cardiff In The Sun
7 Very Best Of Neil Diamond, The
8 Helium Hearts
9 White Socks/Flip Flops
10 Where Do You Wanna Go
11 Lliwaiau Llachar