Dean Van Nguyen
posted on July 14, 2009 19:00
A review of the album 'Dark Days / Light Years' by Super Furry Animals
The Cluas Verdict? 7 out of 10
A few months ago I compiled a playlist of my favourite Super Furry Animals’ tracks stretching back to their debut Fuzzy Logic right through to their most recent effort Hey Venus! Listening on shuffle, what struck me was the consistency in their back catalogue's sound. Every song happily stood by the next, as if they all could have appeared on the same record. SFA have been remarkably consistent in terms of their sound and the quality of their output, a trait that is exceptionally rare these days. Remember this is a band that formed around the same time Radiohead cut Pablo Honey. A band that has seen the rise and fall of so called “generation defining bands” like The Libertines, and one that has outlasted just about all of their Britpop contemporaries they were once called the alternative to. After sixteen years, nine albums, and four record labels, they may be the same cheeky Welsh boys, but Super Furry Animal's wide eyed, humorous style of psychedelic pop is still as refreshing as ever. Indeed, if you listen close enough you can almost hear them snigger in the background. Laughing at the world for allowing them to be rock stars. No one this successful should be having so much fun right?
While there is a consistency to their work, they never simply repeat themselves. Dark Days / Light Years is a complete flipside to their last effort, the super lightweight 'Hey Venus!' Mood wise it scurries away from the light, stalking the darker corners of their psychedelic sound.
Opener ‘Crazy Naked Girls’ is an indulgent, rock jam. Opening with weird, stuttering beats and winding upwards to some sizable riffs, it’s the most immediately memorable track on the album, partly down to the straight forward screaming of “crazy, crazy naked girls” for a hook. But it’s a bit of an anomaly since nothing else on Dark Days / Light Years is as brash. Things settle down a touch with ‘Mt.’, a half decent pop song, but hampered by part time singer Cian Ciaran’s gentle vocals conflicting with the sizeable sting section.
The album is a slow starter, but vindicates itself with a five star run in the second act. The best track here is the eight minute, prog epic ‘Cardiff in the Sun’. Abusing their squealing guitars to a near hypnotic level, under band leader Gruff Rhys’ haunting, but alluring vocals, the song offers some genuinely jarring moments. I hope when the band cut their career-spanning compilation someday, they have the balls to make ‘Cardiff in the Sun’ the opening track. It’s followed by the curiously titled ‘The Very Best of Neil Diamond’. The moody drum and bass dares the Eastern influenced guitars into to keep up with Rhys’ soothing vocals effectively a peace keeper between the two, until they all get swept away by the assault of a cranked up guitar solo.
After the darkness, the light the album title alludes to is allowed to shine. As you might suggest from its name, ‘Helium Hearts’ is a one of the few lightweight tracks. ‘White Socks / Flip Flops’ is a highlight. Its chopped guitar chords chug along nicely, backed up with plenty of cowbell, and a sweet melody. Less impressive though is the closing track, the unfortunately titled ‘Pric’ (apologies to our Welsh readers), a kind of nine minute studio experiment that seems tacked on to the rest of the album.
Listening to SFA you’d be forgiven for thinking this rock & roll thing isn’t brain surgery. All you have to do is get your mates, form a band, and have a laugh doing it. Not so simple of course, but whatever their formula, these guys have been quietly carving out their own corner in modern rock history. It's nine albums, nine hits in my opinion. And I can’t wait for the next nine.
Dean Van Nguyen