Release Date: Sep 16, 2016
Record label: Thrill Jockey
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Experimental Rock, Experimental Electronic
The most immediately striking quality of the music made by Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan, aka North London psyche-pop outfit Grumbling Fur, is its sheer density. Since releasing their 2011 debut, Furrier, the pair have steadily released albums that may seem likely to buckle under the weight of the breathtaking volume of ideas with which they are packed were it not for the effortless craftsmanship of their construction. Their new LP, satisfyingly entitled Furfour, is no exception.
It's been said that an album cover is supposed to reflect the musical contents. This seems very true for London's experimental connoisseurs of electronic sound exploration and psychedelic pop, Grumbling Fur. The explosion of colour on the above image is precisely the intensity that unfolds a consistently dense network of sounds that come from disparate genres, from a band simultaneously in touch with Sixties pop as they are with a score for a space adventure film.
The songs on Furfour, Grumbling Fur's fourth LP, began years ago and were honed through touring while the duo pursued another recorded project. Now, this set of psych-tinged electronic pop tunes is seeing release.Furfour finds Daniel O'Sullivan and Alexander Tucker becoming even more comfortable as vocalists, going all-in on their pop music gamble and coming out big winners. As anyone who has followed the careers of these two experimental shape shifters will have come to expect, Furfour is adorned with subtle psychedelic touches and rich sonic texturing.Yet, the record is first and foremost a collection of pop songs.
For an album that radiates solemnity, Grumbling Fur’s Furfour is surprisingly preoccupied with television. Its trailer has the aesthetic of a scrambled cable signal, lines blurring into swirls as seen through dilated eyes. Snippets of found dialogue at the beginnings and ends of songs evoke channel surfing. The device itself is mentioned more than once in the London psych-pop duo’s lyrics, too, most strikingly in the chanted chorus of “Silent Plans/Black Egg”: “I can see through the day/To the fridge and television.” It’s an image that, like much of Furfour, suggests both a constant, voluntary awareness of the outside world and a simultaneous urge to escape from it.
Not counting their more experimental works under the name Grumbling Fur Time Machine Orchestra (including a 2015 collaborative LP with minimalist composer Charlemagne Palestine), London's Grumbling Fur have progressively become more accessible since making their debut in 2011 with the full-band improvisation Furrier. FurFour continues to refine the experimental synth pop sound the group has been pursuing since it stripped down to the duo of Alexander Tucker and Daniel O'Sullivan for the acclaimed 2013 full-length Glynnaestra. The duo's sad, passionate vocals readily recall peak-era Depeche Mode, but the instrumentation is much more organic, and the production is far more atmospheric and multi-layered, even verging on hallucinatory at times.
Since 2011, Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan have been working together as experimental electronic duo Grumbling Fur. They’ve also delved into numerous other areas of work over the years, including collaborations with Ulver, Sunn O))) and This Heat as well as solo releases and even comics. They have also become a favourite support act of The Charlatans, where Tim Burgess has been known to join them on stage during their set.
Psych-pop, as a rule, strives to spark the same mind-melting effects that psychotropic substances do. So what kind of drug does Grumbling Fur peddle? What kind of trip do they hope to inject in your forebrain? Like Animal Collective, Yeasayer, and the smattering of other avant-pop knob-twisters who douse taut melodies in sprawling electronic soundscapes, they aren’t interested in handing their listeners straightforward emotional experiences. Their compositions don’t resort to down-the-rabbit-hole freneticism, heart-pumping euphoria, or preprogrammed sensory overload; they use nuance, noise, repetition, space, surprise, and scale to sew sonic narratives that sound like a combination of Depeche Mode, mid-career Brian Eno, and the soundtrack to some bootleg science fiction film.
Grumbling Fur is made up of experimental rock duo Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan. In their day jobs, Tucker releases cello-lead drone LPs while O’Sullivan collaborates with Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley as avant-metal outfit Æthenor. Together… Well, you’d expect the word “challenging”, right? Wrong. Grumbling Fur make synth-pop.
Grumbling Fur have proposed a radical, optimistic new strategy for the underground. Their excellent new album Furfour is, first and foremost, a step forward for an exciting band still exploring the idiosyncrasies of their own sound. But it’s also a bold challenge that musicians working in so-called ‘alternative’ currents must heed closely. Furfour is the most accomplished instalment in Daniel O’Sullivan and Alexander Tucker’s Weird Pop project, and one that points to a new way of doing things in alternative music.