Veteran Welsh psych-pop quintet continue to evolve, while revisiting the tripped-out, up-tempo sounds of their early days.
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. With so few smart investment options these days, a new Super Furry Animals CD is a sure bet.
True to form, the quintet from Wales yields strong returns on their ninth studio album, Dark Days/Light Years. If you though their previous platter, Hey Venus, was too laid-back and straightforward, well, you're wrong (and Zeth Lundy will tell you why right here). Still, it's your prerogative to long for the band's wackier, more up-tempo days of yore. Their opening salvo of late '90s, post-Britpop records are all uniformly excellent. Of course, Super Furry Animals have moved ahead since then. Their new album is far from a retread of past ideas.
In some ways, Dark Days/Light Years carries on where Hey Venus left off. Now with their second album for indie label Rough Trade, it's clear that the band are happy to operate with less studio gimmickry and gloss than during their major label days. Like its predecessor, the new album often has a live-in-studio feel to it. The major difference is that, this time, that live sound is channeled through what must be a truckload of stomp boxes and processors. This music is, like, trippy, man! SFA pile on the effects, but the overall sound still feels more immediate and raw than their slickly tricked-out efforts from earlier in the decade. Discs like Phantom Power and Love Kraft were miracles of big budget technology fused with renegade creativity. On Dark Days/Light Years, the Furries still have plenty of the latter, and that's more than enough.
Opening track "Crazy Naked Girls" sets the album's tone, as wah-wah guitars swirl around a double-time snare beat, and Gruff Rhys belts out the title line in an ecstatic state. It's enough to induce an acid flashback (one would imagine). While that song is mostly a good groove gone wild, the band prove themselves plenty capable of reigning in their wild side long to cut a great pop song, as evidenced by the bopping and bleeping "Inaugural Trams." It's the kind of bubblegum psychedelia that only Super Furry Animals are capable of successfully concocting. The song also features a non-English verse sung in – no, it's not Welsh! (there's a whole song of that later) – sung in German, courtesy of guest sänger-sprecher Nick McCarthy, on loan from Franz Ferdinand).
Throughout Dark Days/Light Years, the band continue to investigate that weird and wondrous land where trippy textures and catchy tunes intersect. Over eight minutes long, "Cardfiff in the Sun" begins in a languid, pastoral place before becoming gradually overwhelmed by Huw Bunford's warped and crunchy guitar. Contrast that with the following track, "The Best of Neil Diamond," a funky single candidate that bounces Caribbean beats off of a slinky spy motif. "White Socks/Flip Flops," meanwhile, runs on a Keith Richards riff and an insistent beat. Just try not to think too much about the titular fashion faux pas while you listen, or you'll miss that delicious, mid-song "hey, hey, hey!".
Without making any major alterations to their blueprint for music making, Super Furry Animals have nonetheless found a fresh and vibrant new corner of their odd little niche. Not that anyone who's been paying attention would have expected the group to simply coast. Still, it's always impressive when a group can continue to sound creative and enthused this far into their career. They may be rock veterans by now, but, on Dark Days/Light Years, Super Furry Animals show they haven't lost their youthful spirit.