DiS' Adam Anonymous reports from the Super Furries album launch, from the comfort of his sofa, with tea and biscuits...
Ever the innovators, whenever Super Furry Animals push their personal envelope, two things are guaranteed: refreshing explorative insight and a loveably bumbling outcome. And it’s all here as the increasingly hairy Welsh fivesome gently poke downloading wisdom with their live day-of-release webcast show playing ninth album Dark Days/Light Years in its entirety.
In typical semi-shambolic Super Furries style, the shebang doesn’t escape technical difficulties – a standard occupational hazard while breaking new ground, naturally – beginning late and sporadic video feeds depriving many of its opening once underway. But with lights low at stalwart Cardiff recording/rehearsal space Music Box, Gruff Rhys and co’s skewed psych-pop magic begins. This will never quite capture the excitement of a new release rush to the local record emporium on a Monday, but, hey, move on already...
Aforementioned hitches deprive us of ‘Crazy Naked Girls’ and, tragically, ‘The Very Best Of Neil Diamond’, instead flailing straight into mid-paced safe pair of hands ‘Moped Eyes’. A few hefty drags on a particularly well-embellished roll-up, it harks to the past two or three SFA LPs’ most mellowed moments.
It takes ‘Inaugural Trams’ to spark a little life – on record it features Nick from Franz Ferdinand getting Germanic – its Kraftwerk countdown heralding an electro sister to ‘Moped Eyes’, cruising on a burbling electronic autobahn where its predecessor buzzes from London to Brighton (via Snowdonia). Gruff holds up a card bearing a percentage. Seventy-five you say? We’re in eight out of ten territory so far, sir.
Our verdict nosedives a mite as ‘Inconvenience’ arrives, woolly hat-clad Gruff in the centre of the gloom murmuring half-disinterested vocals (“Inconvenience / What the fuck?” is, we believe, the opening gambit). A repetitious theme builds, however, until the man whose slacker indie-rock fisherman demeanour, which launched a thousand Cardiff lads’ looks years previously, raises his guitar aloft for a feedback-bathed finale, suggesting looping show-ending potential a la a polite ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’.
‘Cardiff In The Sun’ perfectly mirrors spring’s arrival in the Welsh capital, a restrained intro segueing into “Sha-la-las” before Gruff reveals “I ran amok in the luxury blocks”, just maybe wishfully referencing a tumour-like growth of swanky flats Cardiff has experienced in recent times. For us, it’s the first song totally slicing through the tech' gremlins – a bittersweet airy morning after the night before.
‘Mountain’ isn’t Dark Days/Light Years’ lyrical high, Cian Ciarán grasping the mic for a rare vocal lead. Ironically, it’s perhaps most reminiscent of Gruff’s solo work so far, cementing a feeling SFA are birthing a reflective record here as it quietly collapses into a humble drumbeat and string snatches, time kept with mass handclaps.
‘Helium Hearts’ talks of vegemite in a rarefied upbeat atmosphere, though ‘White Socks Flip Flops’ realises all that ‘Helium Hearts’ attempts: classic Super Furries calypso undertones lubricating a skewed pop beauty – sunny, instantly likeable eponymous pay-off line included. Cries of “Switch it off and start again” denote Gruff’s troops have truly rebooted, as Mr Huw ‘Bunf’ Bunford concurrently reminds us there’s more than one talented set of vocal chords in the band.
If Dark Days/Light Years stopped there, then the finest Super Furry Animals album since Mwng threatened to announce itself. As it is, two helpings of chaff slightly sully the wheat: ‘Where Do You Wanna Go?’ (bleeding into ‘Lliwiau Llachar’) drifts past, a simple open road ditty that fails to entirely endear, before ‘Prîck’ (spelt differently to previously announced title ‘Pric’) freaks out with strange bass gurgles, as Gruff swings a luminous tube-shaped instrument – answers below, please. It’s jammed into the ground before musical tools are downed as the final distorted electronic protests evaporate. The impact isn’t lost, thankfully: Dark Days/Light Years is, true to its handle, a beguiling reflective escape from current reality’s drudgery, a trick the Super Furries see through to the magical prestige like few others.