Get This!

I Can’t Get Enough Of This

Zoom!, the opening track on Love Kraft, Super Furry Animals‘ 7th album begins with a SPLASH! – the sound of guitar player Huw Bunford diving into a Catalonian swimming pool in a hopeful attempt to shake off the stifling sticky midday heat.

Super Furry AnimalsZoom!

At once you’re baptised, immersed in a new rich Super Furry sound that comes steeped in an MOR AOR FM sheen; the heady sound and heavy vibes of ’70s California, of the Holland-era Beach Boys and the coke-flecked Fleetwood Mac, arranged perhaps by David Axelrod. The Super Furries’ kitchen sink approach to their writing finds interweaving melodies and harmonies coasting atop a backing of tinkling, descending keys, a sprinkle of ascending spectral chants, skittering drum breaks and crisp, electric guitars – the sort of guitars where you can hear the fingers scrape across the fretboards as the chords and riffs change shape.

Midway through, the metaphorical clouds darken and those wordless, classical chants come to the fore, bringing with them an uneasy, end-of-the-world feeling that at times recalls The Smiths’ Death Of A Disco Dancer, itself a heavy, lengthy, descending journey into the mind.

‘I can’t get enough of this,’ goes Gruff Rhys. ‘Kiss me with apocalypse.’ The lyric throughout is suitably obscure and wide-ranging. Over the course of 7 headswimming minutes, it takes in Lord Lucan and Shergar, the Virgin Mary crying blood, driving to the Kwik Save in a Ford Mustang and a dalmation whose spots have fallen off. Proof, if it were needed, that the Super Furry Animals can pack more musical and lyrical ideas into one verse than a lot of bands can manage in a lifetime.

The second track, Atomik Lust, continues in the same lush vein. Lighter, more pop, it introduces itself on a bed of electrically enhanced backwards stuff, kept in check by rhythmically jangling sleigh bells and western saloon piano. By the second verse, honeyed Bacharach horns slide into earshot, subtle strings provide the counter melodies and the whole thing grooves smoothly into outer space. It’s fantastic.

Super Furry AnimalsAtomik Lust

A Super Furry change of pace finds it moving into sludge rock in the middle and again toward the end, a super-melodic track worthy of inclusion on, say, Pacific Ocean Blue, sandwiched between a squall of Spectorish drums and squealing guitars. It’s not all smooth LA vibes round here, they say without saying.

Love Kraft is a happy product of circumstance. Following the demise of Creation, the band found themselves signed to major label Columbia. Happy with their charges, the label funded recording in Spain and mixing in Brazil. Beastie Boys and Beck producer Mario Caldato was brought in to produce, and using the label’s funds, embellished the record with strings and brass and musical decoration that the band could only have dreamed off in the years previous. The result is an album that Gryuff Rhys himself says is the band’s pinnacle to date.

If you’ve never fully investigated Super Furry Animals, you might try their debut Fuzzy Logic and it’s follow-up Radiator, but I suggest you fast forward to album number 7 and work your way outwards from there. These days, bands never really split up. They take an extended hiatus, release solo albums and side projects, produce other bands perhaps, but eventually they always find one another again. Lets hope Super Furry Animals, one of our greatest, most-inventive, unique and special bands do likewise before much more time has elapsed.

Six Of The Best

Six Of The Best – Cian Ciaran

Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…

Number 11 in a series:

2012 looks like it’s the year of the side project. Just as Gerry Love‘s excellent Lightships LP has raised his status from bass playing, songwriting member of Teenage Fanclub into bona fide artist in his own right, so to will Outside In by Cian Ciaran.

Cian is the keyboard player with the Super Furry Animals. He’s the man who put the tech in their technicolour surround sound and is the Super Furries’ secret weapon, the main reason they remain a massive cut above yer average indie rock band. With Cian at the helm, the Super Furry sound can go from Beach Boys balladery to bangin’ nosebleed techno to 12-bar boogie and back again, often before the first chorus. Sure, it’s Gruff out front and it’s Gruff who appears most active when the SFA are in downtime, so who knew that the wee guy at the back who sings occasional harmonies was such an integral part of the band’s sound?

Well, wait till you hear Outside In.  Drawing another parallel with Gerry Love’s Lightships, it’s nothing really like the music of Cian’s day job, it’s not what you might expect to hear, yet it’s somehow exactly right. Cian’s record is all about the arrangements. And I’m talkin’ a Surfs Up level of sophistication here, a level of greatness few would’ve presumed a keyboard boffin with a side project releasing anonymous techno records was ever capable of (sorry, Cian). Written entirely on keyboard, though played on a smörgåsbord of Super Furry-friendly instruments, Outside In is bathed in pathos, with melancholy dripping from every minor key and sustained harmony. As I previously wrote about lead track You & Me:

Lennonesque is the word that straightaway springs to mind. The double-tracked vocals, the Double Fantasy piano part, the double dose of sweary words. There’s even a George Harrison slide section playing just behind the best 3-part woo-woo-wooing harmonies the Wilson brothers never recorded.

That should give you some idea of where the album’s heading. Second track ‘Till I Die is a real heart-breaker.  Tinkling grand pianos accompany Cian as he pours his heart and soul into it. Woman. What have you done to me? Why leave me? My life began the day that I found you. Jesus. By the time the string section swells into the middle eight there’s not a dry eye in the house. This is immense. Proper grown-up adult music, whatever that is. Elsewhere on Outside In you’ll find the Super Furry bossa nova of Martina Franca, the falsetto a-capella of 1st Time and the sunny doo-wop of What Will Be. There’s enough wonky waltzes and trippy time signatures, fuzzy psychedelia and unconventional weirdness to satisfy your inner Wilson fetish. Indeed, every track sounds like it’s been poked, prodded and tweaked by ol’ hang dog Brian himself whilst lounging in his L.A. sandpit. Which, if you need to ask, is no bad thing at all.

Cian’s choices (and accompanying You Tube links) for Six of the Best are perhaps the most eclectic and interesting we’ve had yet, a perfect reflection of someone who often turned up at festivals blaring ear-splitting techno from a customised army tank and, who, in his day job plays in one of the most eclectic, interesting and unconventional bands on (?) the planet, unrestricted by fad, fashion or expectation. From crescendo-peaking opera and string-swelling soundtrack via wigged-out indie rock and under-appreciated songwriters living in the enormous shadow of their brothers to 20 minute long squelchy 303 acid house, Cian’s picks truly are Six of the Best

In no particular order…….. it’s like choosing between ones children…..

Ennio Moriconne – Once Upon A Time In The West

I only chose this particular track because I had to choose one. But it did bring a tear to my eye  when I heard it live. Anything by him has been eye-opening for me and something to aspire to. I’ve seen him 4 times in various locations, the best was in Rome where he played less of the hits. I love the power of a live orchestra. Awe inspiring.

Stone Roses – I Am The Resurrection

The band that made me want to be in a band. Before I heard the Stone Roses, the only gtr music I really knew was the Beatles and Stones. They made music contemporary for me. At the time I picked up a pair of drumstix and practised and realised soon enough that I had a long way to go, and still do. I went to see them last month and it was a trip down memory lane. I used to listen to the album on my Walkman every night in bed and sang every word, guitar part, solo, every drum beat and bass line – fuck me, it was my musical education that I still cherish to this day.

Bizet – The Pearl Fishers

I first heard this when I was 4 apparently, so says my mum when I walked into the kitchen having played it and then reported back to her saying “It’s a special piece , isn’t it Mam?”

Stakker- Humanoid (Snowman mix) 

I think this was the first record I knowingly bought, after Ghostbusters from WHSmiths on Bangor High Street.  Acid House was my first love and this track is one of my all time greats. There are so many versions but this one, along with the original is my favourite. It was my first step into what would shape my musical exploits through my teens. I don’t know where I’d be now without acid and techno. Long may it continue and develop. Electronic music always pushes barriers for me and shapes things to come, musically and in production, ever since synths and technology found their way into popular music. I fuckin’ loves it!

System7 – Alpha Wave (Plastikman rmx) –

A classic, I never get tired of this one. I played it in Liquid Rooms, Tokyo back in the day. There’s an almighty drop down, and a build up that lasts forever. It’s one of the best (along with Hardfloor’s monster builds, that would be another choice, Hardtrance Acperience, here), in which the crowd proceeded to do the Ayatollah to the record as conducted by Guto and Bunf. It still works on the dancefloor to this day.

Dennis Wilson – Lady (Fallin’ In Love)

Again, I could’ve chosen anything by the Beach Boys but plumped for this solo effort to represent them. A beautiful song, what more can I say?

As Cian perfectly summarised in Rocksucker recently:

I don’t want to be held down to one style of music because I like listening to all sorts, and I like writing in all styles as well. I don’t think you should be pigeon-holed into one style because you can learn from other styles and incorporate what you learn in other stuff, weave it in however you want. It’s like an artist – why should an artist stick to his paintbrush when he can do pottery or film or photography? I just look at it like that.

Every Six Of the Best compilation comes in a handy RAR download file. Get Cian Ciaran’s here. New link HERE! (Thanks, Andy!) Now get yourself over pronto to your favourite record shop, if you’re lucky enough to have one you can frequent, or your usual online retailer and pick up a copy of Cian Ciaran‘s Outside In. Or, in keeping with the Super Furry mood, why not buy it here, via Spillers in Cardiff, The Oldest Record Shop In The World. Go! Go! Go