Saturday, April 4, 2009

Super Furry Animal's "Dark Days, Light Years"

A little while ago I wrote about the Fleet Foxes, and I had some problems with their generally lovely sound. It was too close to the sources it was taken from, so you wondered, despite its beauty, why you shouldn’t just listen to the originals. Now I’m going to put my head on the block again, and argue that another album that is at least as beautiful, and is borne of some old music too, is worth treating in quite a different way.

The Super Furry Animals’ “Dark Days, Light Years” comes from a really idiosyncratic musical world. I have been a fan of this band for more than ten years, and I’ve seen them produce folk, punk, massive prog rock and hard electronica. This new album, as much of any of its eight predecessors (! – yes, a band you’ve been missing out on!), gives you a strange sensation from the beginning. It makes you feel like you can hear where it came from – perhaps 70s disco at times, or 80s hair metal, or psychedelia - but you can’t for the life of you get back there. It’s a crazed concoction all their own.

SFA are a band who play complex, moving music while holding the slightest of wry smiles as they do it. My brother-in-law listened to the opening track (“Crazy Naked Girls”) with me recently, and seemed slightly irritated by that smile. He felt the outlandish humor of it was contrived, because the huge shredding guitar solos that run through it were really compelling, but SFA were too cool to admit it.

Perhaps that’s true, but I think it’s fair to say that SFA never smirk at us as they play. The humor is offset by the beauty of the harmonies on a track like “Moped Eyed,” or the swirling eight-minute build of tracks like “Cardiff in the Sun,” which is too euphoric to be just a joke. They are serious about music, but they know that without the humor, they would quickly become way too serious to be digestible by the rest of us.

Let me say that “Dark Day, Light Years” is certainly not SFA’s best. That would have to go to either “Guerilla” (1999) or “Phantom Power” (2003). But there is no average work from this band, just as there is no average sound from any album they make.

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