Super Furry Animals - Dark Days/Light Years
Record Label: Rough Trade Records
Release Date: April 21, 2009
Trying to describe the sound of Super Furry Animals is like trying to hug a porcupine. Doable, yes, but a tad bit cumbersome. For the better part of 15 years, the Welsh psychedelic rockers have dabbled in electronic experimentation, jam and power-pop to name but a few genres, with very few if any clunkers. Ever-consistent but always evolving, the band manage to reinvent themselves every time out. Their latest album Dark Days/Light Years is the band's first since 2007's downbeat Hey Venus and their second on influential British label Rough Trade.
In the time in between recordings the quintet has been exceptionally busy. Lead singer Gruff Rhys released his second solo album Candylion, an underwhelming assortment of ambient, acoustic nuttiness and has also explored electro-pop with the band Neon Neon. Keyboardist Cian Ciaran has pursued his techno project Acid Casuals while drummer Dafydd Ieuan and bassist Guto Pryce have teamed up with Welsh actor and former Super Furry lead singer Rhys Ifans to form the supergroup The Peth. So how exactly they found the time to release Dark Days Light Years remains to be seen. That the disc finds the band at their artistic peak is even more impressive.
In discussing Dark Days, drummer Ieuan has admitted that the album would "lack saxophone, tambourine and lap steel guitar, due to a phobia of the latter," and would instead focus on riffs and grooves, that the band had spent the better part of the last two years rehearsing. Dark Days commences with the jittery jolt of "Crazy Naked Girls," a six-minute voodoo-rock jam that lets Ifans share lead vocal duties with guitarist Huw Bunford. Infused with numerous guitar freakouts, cavernous drums and three false endings, it's the first of many, LSD-inspired mindtrips. To prove their nuttiness, the band offers the joyous "Inaugral Trams," which features spoken word contributions from Franz Ferdinand's Nick McCarthy, and its probably one of the first pop songs that has waxed rhapsodic about the vital role the tram system plays in enhancing German society.
The 1970's boogie of both "Inconvenience" and "Mountain" are straightforward, glam-rock romps, with the latter featuring Cian Ciaran singing bizarre verses about relaxing and chilling out. The album's focal point though is "Cardiff in the Sunshine," a pastoral, eight-minute, electro-pop gem with vocoder vocals, lilting synth lines and various guitar undulations that rise to a teetering climax. An obvious nod to the town that birthed them, the song is arguably one of the band's best in their long history.
Though the quintet is always quick to divvy up responsibility, Gruff Rhys is still the band's most consistent creative member and his Moroccan funk-pop experiment "The Very Best of Neil Diamond," is haunting and chilly, while "Moped Eyes," is a jokey, organ-laced strut with his trademark vocal antics, that finds him singing, "Hot wheels at traffic lights, hot deals, transactional rights, from middle-aged sophisticates, to stone-aged reprobates."
Super Furry's penchant for singing in their native tongue has been well-documented throughout their discography and that proclivity is cast once again in the form of “Lliwiau Llachar” (it translates as “Intensely Bright Colours”), a euphoric and catchy summer tune that makes the Welsh dialect sound as breezy and vernal as a Long Island iced tea. The album ends with the stylistic and mind-altering jam "Pric," a sprawling and slinky way to finish an unpredictable and utterly jubilant album.
What's most remarkable about Dark Days/Light Years is that the band is at a place where it can easily coast along and rest on its prior laurels. Add the band member's various side projects to the fold and their is plenty of reason to expect this album to be rushed, unfocused and mediocre. Instead, this is a fresh and vibrant collection of sprawling psych epics, radio-ready singles and a steady chunk of the band's trademark weirdness. Though their days of topping the charts are a few years behind them, the uncanny and quirky Welsh quintet seems perfectly willing to re-invent themselves once again. If only all music was this enjoyable and this unpredictable.
One of my managers at work just bought me their album Rings Around The World and I must say I'm a new fan. They are incredible. I need to get this as well. They really do something different. Great review