While much of Furfour relies on the same Depeche Mode-meets-Eno format, the LP showcases the clarity of Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan's heterogeneous psych-pop vision.
Psych-pop, as a rule, strives to spark the same mind-melting effects that psychotropic substances do. So what kind of drug does Grumbling Fur peddle? What kind of trip do they hope to inject in your forebrain? Like Animal Collective, Yeasayer, and the smattering of other avant-pop knob-twisters who douse taut melodies in sprawling electronic soundscapes, they aren't interested in handing their listeners straightforward emotional experiences. Their compositions don't resort to down-the-rabbit-hole freneticism, heart-pumping euphoria, or preprogrammed sensory overload; they use nuance, noise, repetition, space, surprise, and scale to sew sonic narratives that sound like a combination of Depeche Mode, mid-career Brian Eno, and the soundtrack to some bootleg science fiction film. On Furfour, the group's follow-up to 2014's ambitious Preternaturals, Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan introduce a new level of focus to these narratives, leaning closer to "left of the dial" pop than they ever have before. Listening, you realize that this isn't psych-pop meant for those looking for a high, hoping to ascend to some new plane of consciousness; this is music meant to make you pay attention to the tremors and depths that have been in your psyche all along.
“Joy, bliss, friendship and expression are the central keystones to the Fur universe,” the duo explained. For a group that started out creating dystopian electro-ambient tracks that melded industrial groans with foreboding synthesizers (see 2011's gloomy post-punk fantasia Furrier), joy, bliss, friendship, and expression don't seem like the words they would select to describe their musical ethos. But the duo gradually shed this penchant for discordant melodrama across 2013's Glynnaestra and Preternaturals. Now, with the release of Furfour, it's a relic of the band's past. Throughout these twelve tracks, you can detect the small raptures of discovery—the joy upon finding an alien worldview in a swell of synth, the bliss upon uncovering a melody's core—that Tucker and O'Sullivan must have felt while making the record. This, more so than any other LP in Grumbling Fur's corpus, is the work of two songwriters with a clear voice and a lot to say.
Listen to "Acid Ali Khan", the first single off of Furfour, and this voice emerges out of a morass of plunking bass and encrypted voices—voices talking over each other, around each other, mumbling into voids and squabbling about nonsensical issues that alternately seem cosmically important and totally inconsequential. These could be words caught from some errant radio signal or from the chatter of a crowd; it's left unclear. Over a rippling synth that repeats with cardiac regularity, Tucker and O'Sullivan offer their best Depeche Mode impression, but the Depeche Mode they're channeling is one audiophiles are wont to overlook. Indeed, "Acid Ali Khan" doesn't sound like the self-deifying industrial rockers from "Personal Jesus" or the goth-electro shouters from "Wrong". The duo is more interested in the Depeche Mode from "Strangelove" and "Enjoy the Silence", the Depeche Mode that grasps light even in the gloomiest of places. "It's a long way down / And it's unintended / Undiscovered," the chorus concludes. It's a lyric delivered with such conviction and hope that the dive into the unknown it describes could follow Dave Gahan's effusion from "Enjoy the Silence" ("All I ever wanted / All I ever needed / Is here in my arms") and it wouldn't seem out of place.
Furfour is packed with widescreen synthpop ballads like this, which is either a misstep or an admirable commitment to aesthetic consistency, depending on your taste. "Heavy Days", "Perfect Reader", and "Strange the Friends", for instance, all basically adopt the same format: organic atmospherics, mechanized percussion, and gossamer synths all surrounding a starkly melodic lead vocal. While many of the tracks that use this template blur together, some, like "Acid Ali Khan", stand out. "Milky Light" is a prime example. With a central melody that marks the closest the record comes to full-on hypnosis, it's a track that demonstrates the clarity of Grumbling Fur's sonic vision. This is psych-pop without the pretension, Eno-esque experimentalism with more heart. "Viewing the pictures of your internal self / As you stare so fixedly," Tucker and O'Sullivan sing in unison before an orchestral break sweeps past them, bringing into focus what increasingly seems to be the duo's main objective: turning the messiness of introspection into sonic high art.