Super Furry Animals: Dark Days/Light Years

By: Tucker Walsh

Someone (NME Magazine?) recently said it best - Super Furry Animals are today's Beatles. The late '60s brand.

Serious music afficionados have long known that the Super Furry Animals employ a playfulness and freedom of approach on their records, infusing their joyful takes on psychedelia with West Coast harmonies. Where new record (their 9th!) Dark Days/Light Years (released April 21 on Rough Trade) differs is in its insistence on grooves, particularly those accented by Krautrock and glam rock, which add a stealthy intensity to the band's typically sun-filled universe, making Dark Days/Light Years a genuine revelation.

The recurrent theme throughout the album is chugging rhythms that set a foundation for an unhurried, Technicolor expansiveness. Opener "Crazy Naked Girls," a mix of funky beats, Prince-style vocals and cock rocking, flirts with Andre 3000 space-funk. However, "Crazy Naked Girls" is arguably the most self-consciously wacky track on an album chock full of whacked-out pleasures. The beginning of "Mt." segues into a rollicking glam rock groove replete with a disco string section and soulful backing vocals. Main man Gruff Rhys doesn't take center stage until third track, "Moped Eyes." And it's show-stealing stuff, employing softly intoned, sly vocals on the verse leading into a chorus blessed with harmonies so summery and otherworldly that you'll have to borrow a Martian's sunglasses to protect your eyes. It's pop, but not as we know it.

Elsewhere there are nods to Bowie, particularly on the retro-futurist "Moped Eyes" and "Inaugural Trams." Both retain an artful credibility despite featuring all manner of antiquated synthesizing devices (Moogs, Vocoders, et al.) presumably hanging around the studio after Gruff's electropop/hip hop project Neon Neon (JamBase review). Only Gruff Rhys can somehow manage to make a sing-along out of lines like, "We have reduced emissions by 75-percent." Many of Rhys's vocals on Dark Days are treated, giving them a new textural range and somehow allowing the band to play outside of themselves a bit. Furthermore, the vocals are generally less prominent in the mix, making for a more democratic sound less pivoted on Gruff's presence.

"Inconvenience" is rollicking glam rock scrawled with all-manner of heady, OTT psychedelic ephemera, while "Cardiff In The Sun" is lush, hazy prog. Next up is the stupendously titled "The Very Best of Neil Diamond," where Middle Eastern sounds color a tale of music seeping out from under the rubble of a bombed house. Never has such a silly-named song felt so poignant – and it's underpinned by an irresistible hook There is still space on Dark Days for SFA's more archetypally catchy, harmonious pop, which surfaces on "Helium Hearts," "Where Do You Wanna Go?" and the breezy groove of "White Socks/Flip Flops." Closer "Pric" begins as Krautrock but morphs into wacked-out tribal trance replete with birdcalls and 808 acid patterns. An album for dark days maybe, but one of such funky, irresistible catchiness one can't help but see light at the end of the tunnel.

JamBase | Plush
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[Published on: 6/10/09]

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