Release Date: Apr 21, 2009
Record label: Rough Trade
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
It’s rare to find a critic who doesn’t like Super Furry Animals and it’s easy to see why. Since their first release in 1995 (the Welsh-language Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (In Space) EP), they’ve given us eight studio albums full of invention, hooks, catchy melodies, experimentation and downright weirdness. Not for nothing are they sometimes referred to as “the Welsh Beatles,” although giving SFA such a title is setting them up for a fall somewhat.
A perfect getaway in these Dark Days “Where do you wanna go? / ’Cause we could go anywhere,” Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys vows in “Where Do You Wanna Go?” on the band’s new record. SFA makes good on this promise. With a sprawling soundscape and off-the-wall lyrics, Dark Day/Light Years is a quite trip—often in more ways than one.
Once you've communicated what you want to say so many ways, there's always the groove. Not that Super Furry Animals were the ones who needed to get theirs back, exactly. I mean, sure, 2007's Hey Venus! wasn't so much "speaker blowing"-- lead singer Gruff Rhys' advertisement-- as "hey, SFA still don't suck yet." But before that, 2005's Love Kraft was a multi-layered psych-funk-folk-samba epic about love, war, and "no more romantic comedies." Since then, the Welsh quintet's offbeat side projects-- such as Rhys's Delorean-themed Neon Neon partnership with Boom Bip, or keyboardist Cian Ciárán's electronic-leaning Acid Casuals-- have kept the Super Furry faithful well-supplied.
This is the Super Furries' ninth studio album, but it has more spark and invention than most teen bands manage on their debuts. Dark Days/Light Years is their finest collection since 2003's Phantom Power, a purple patch perhaps inspired by the band members' dalliances in various solo projects: Neon Neon, Candylion, the Peth and Acid Casuals. At their best, they find the interface between exotic, arcane sounds and rich tunes; Crazy Naked Girls is a perfect nexus of melody and odd falsetto funk.
You can never be too sure what you’re going to get with a new Super Furry Animals, but you know it’ll be good. Whether heavily produced or cut with few frills, sung in English or Welsh, and regardless of the presence of tambourines (which were barred from use on the new album), the Furries create delectable psych-pop for the modern world. The band have never made a mediocre album, much less a bad one.
Lest we forget, it is a matter of record that Super Furry Animals spent the marketing budget for their first album on a tank. That it was then fitted with an impressive PA, given a lick of technicolour paint and toured around the festival circuit belching techno music from its pacified innards is remembered hazily by revellers who danced on its exoskeleton. Even in 1996, a time in which huge sums were regularly spent on giving major releases the impetus demanded by boardrooms bloated on good times, it was considered at the very least, avant garde; to have come from a band fresh out of the blocks on an independent label, it was flat-out ballsy.
Longtime Super Furry Animals album artist Pete Fowler collaborated with Keiichi Tanaami, the designer responsible for their 2007 album Hey Venus!, for the cover art for SFA's ninth album, Dark Days/Light Years, and it's a fitting gesture for an album that connects the focused, revitalized band of the late 2000s with the renegades of the late '90s. A cursory listen reveals Dark Days to be considerably wilder than Hey Venus!, whose primary charm was its streamlined efficiency, showcasing the band at its tight, melodic best. Elements of this remain -- it's hard to strip the Day-Glo pop out of SFA, and they do not deny themselves, or us, this candied pleasure -- but the opener, "Crazy Naked Ladies," makes it plain that this is a buoyant, electrified, psychedelic affair, as much about texture as it is about sound.
Super Furry Animals have been at the forefront of forward-thinking pop music for 15 years, and the band's ninth album shows that they continue to be as committed to their craft as ever. Eschewing the classic pop format of 2007's Hey Venus!, which was lauded by critics as a return to the group's early form, Dark Days/Light Years instead succeeds in its mastery of boundary pushing and variegated tones, all cut, mixed, and sequenced into a musical cornucopia of juxtaposed styles and pop experimentation. The album starts with the 6 1/2-minute funky psychedelic opus "Crazy Naked Girls," as if to herald a party that never really gets started.
On the Super Furry Animals' ninth album, the Welsh five-piece take one groovy, spirited idea per song and milk it for all it's worth. The vaguely off-putting opening track, for instance, features Gruff Rhys and Huw Bunford harmonizing the lyrics "crazy, crazy naked girls" for six minutes over a staccato guitar line, a clap-happy drumbeat and a ton of whacka-whacka wah-pedal soloing. [rssbreak] Though a bit jammy right off the top, Dark Days/Light Years is also stuffed with sunny vocal melodies, pop hooks, pulsating electro moments next to thoughtful folk ones, playful lyrics and expansive psychedelic washes of guitar and synth.
Through bong-fuelled pop, cacophonous excursions in drill 'n' bass and parliamentary kudos for services to the Welsh language, there can be no doubt that Cardiff's Super Furry Animals are one of a kind. Since signing with Creation in 1995, Gruff Rhys's psychedelic troupe have set the controls to the heart of the pop mainstream via the most contrary route possible, taking in inspired Britpop (Radiator), high-gloss soul (Rings Around the World) and folk-tinged lo-fi sung in Welsh (Mwng). On this ninth studio album, the band temper their goofiness with an unusual restraint, kicking the clogged Spector-isms of 2007's Rough Trade debut Hey Venus! into touch for a potent mix of Krautrock, glam and Zep-ish freak outs.
The thing about Super Furry Animals is that they simply do not put out bad albums. In many ways, the Welsh rock band has cemented themselves as some of the finest set of musicians currently making music. The level of quality, at a remarkably consistent pace, that all of their releases are cared for is exceptional. And honestly, very few other bands come close to being able to rival that.