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. Furfour has uplifting scenes connected with the modern world, sad scenes again with more familial suburban themes, and completely escapist indulgent moods.
The patchwork and combination of samples, organic instrumentation, beats, and majestic harmonies make this one of the most thought-provoking and original sounding records of 2016. It's and more like sonic explanation of a mind. One that's engaged on the finer details in life picked up on through a softly psychedelic existence.
Opening cut 'Strange the Friends' features non-imitative polyphony in a congested soundscape that reflects the hectic chaos of the city of London in which the album was created. The surrealist lyric "Objects hold your gaze / Sending the endlessly spiraling stairs never and never quite there"are the stand outs as the unbreakable lock between vocalists Alexander Tucker and Daniel O'Sullivan - the two core members of Grumbling Fur - remains as strong as on any other of their albums.
The second cut, 'Acid Ali Khan', is a completely different animal . It's a spacey synth-pop banger and has enough bite to get the Spiritualized and Death In Vegas loving bucket hat lot entertained while gurning off their nut. The bass heavy soundscape is contradicted by the elegant wistful harmonies of the two singers who you'd imagine sitting on a river bank in Oxford smoking hash and playing guitars while leaving their physics revision on the picnic blanket.
'Heavy Days' has nods to Eno's Another Green World thanks to the remarkable balance between psychedelic pop and experimental sounds connected to the likes of Conrad Schnitzler who co-founded the Zodiac Club. Meanwhile, as the production is so accomplished and absorbing throughout Furfour Grumbling Fur do give way to a couple of solely instrumental tracks on this album. These are the prog-y electronica of 'Molten Familiar' and the angelic euphoria of 'Pyewacket's Palace'.
But they aren't the album's strongest draw. 'Milky Light' is a must-hear with strong dreamlike imagery and fragile, insecure lyrical themes met with a heart wrenching organic sounding string part.
'Perfect Reader' would be a good live tune as the high tempo beat lends an energetic backdrop to the vocals that take precedent and change octave effectively to lift the mood into new heights. The synth melody almost takes on the character of a bag-pipe but manages to remain quite contemporary at the same time. The bass warbles like a hover-craft with a hole in its exhaust.
'Silent Plans/ Black Egg' would suit a battle seen in a 22nd-century version of Game of Thrones. Lyrically, the grim existence of being stuck in a depression is implied. The bass line is particularly powerful here punching underneath the treble. The spoken word sample at the end is an eerie surprise bring up haunting images of some twisted Druid ritual.
The beginning of the 'Golden Simon' is the last hook-y pop phase. The vocals give way to flute that conjures up the bleak, haunting beauty of a remote Andean vista as the sample of someone breathless and scared is flown in over the top.
Mostly inaudible spoken words of something that seems like a televised science lesson in the 70s, and a Kula Shaker 'Govinda'-esque instrumental see things out on this epic new album.
If you need something to invigorate your soul and send you on a journey then look no further.
8Cai Trefor's Score