Cover Versions, Hard-to-find

Rhys Is The Word

It’s the mid 90s all over again! Chris Evans is back on the telly soon with a one-off TFI Friday. Blur have a new LP out – a bit of a grower, I’ve found, equal parts skewed pop noise and languid, lethargic Damon downers. More excitingly than any of that though is that next week there’ll be Super Furry fever the length and breadth of the country. Or in my house at least, and possibly yours too. Super Furry Animals are back together after 6 long years lost in a wilderness of solo projects, side projects, family issues and a generally lazy, can’t-be-arsed attitude to their group’s music to go out on a tour around the Academies and O2s of the land.

sfa logo pete fowler

Most bands reform (have the Super Furries ‘reformed’? Who really knows?) and play the various enormodomes and arenas with a set comprising all the big hits and fan favourites. These bands, ever thoughtful to their fans’ requirements, even stick in a couple of new tracks to allow folk to disappear to the bar or the toilet or wherever.  Not the Super Furry Animals.  The tour is on the back of the reissue of their Mwng LP, an album sung entirely in their mother tongue, an album that somehow made its way to the dizzy heights of Number 11 on yer actual charts. Given the stellar quality of the rest of the band’s back catalogue, this is just about as un-comeback like as possible. Think of a Bizarro-era Wedding Present who reform to play a set of Ukrainians material and you’re half way there.

sfa tour 2015

Due to can’t-get-out-of work commitments I’m going to miss the Glasgow show (just about the only one not yet advertised with a Sold Out! sign), which I’m doubly miffed at now that The Magic Numbers have been added as the support act. Two great bands at what will be one (very) smokin’ gig, in every sense of the word.

As much as Mwng is unintelligible to the average listener outside of native-speaking Wales, (“Don’t sing your songs in Welsh,” instructed Creation boss Alan McGee. “Sing them in English.” “We do,” replied a puzzled Gruff Rhys) it’s still a terrific record – noisy and thrashing one minute, warped and wobbly and lightly dusted in a fuzzy haze the next (often within the first 2 minutes of the same song) and will no-doubt sound out of this world when it makes its way into the live arena. You have to presume that the shows will be two-parters, with the album being the yin to a greatest hits-type yang, but in the world of the SFA who really knows? All I do know is that I’m irked that I can’t go.

SFA_15

On the Mwng LP you’ll find this, Y Teimlad, a slow burning beauty of a track that combines lovely descending guitar figures with Beach Boys harmonies and the odd lightly toasted guitar riff – Super Furry Animals in miniature, if you will.

Super Furry AnimalsY Teimlad

Y Teimlad is a cover of a track by obscure Welsh experimentalists Datblygu. Datblygu were self-sufficient, releasing album after album on cassette only, singing their heavy, pastoral psychedlia in Welsh and receiving the bare minimum of airplay (although this included 5 Peel Sessions) before crashing to a halt in the early 90s. They were clearly a big influence on the next wave of Welsh bands, particularly the Super Furries and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. But you knew that already.

DatblyguY Teimlad

If you’re off to one of those Super Super Furry shows, make sure you enjoy it for me.

sfa yeti

 

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

Hard-to-find

Take Me To Your Dealer, Super Furry Animals

Ah, hidden tracks. Ever since that tape engineer accidentally left the tape running whilst Abbey Road was being mastered, creating Her Majesty as an unintended hidden track, others have followed where The Beatles (naturally) took the lead. Come to think of it, The Beatles pioneered something similar a couple of years before this when they put that “I never cook it any other way I never cook it any other way I never cook it an….” right into the run out groove at the end of Sgt Pepper. But that’s not really a hidden track, more of an annoyance to the weekend stoner who’d have to get up and physically lift the needle form the record. No, I’m talking about proper hidden tracks. Those wee gems right at the end of a CD about 15 minutes after the last track has stopped playing, or before track 1 has even started (re-re-wind). I can do without the sound of the bass player being sick at the beginning of Ash’s ‘1977‘ album. And I can do without the stoned piano nonsense at the end of  (er, I forget for the moment!) But tracks like Nirvana’s ‘Endless Nameless’ (on later editions of Nevermind), Me White Noise on Blur’s Think Tank and GenChildren on Radiohead’s Kid A are proof that sometimes the band’s best work goes almost unnoticed. Those 3 tracks are all future posts for sure, but for now I want to focus on the real Kings of Pop, those Super Furry Animals.

super furry goggles

I said Google!

The Super Furries would perhaps agree with me when I say that the best work can often go unnoticed. The first track on their Guerilla album is Check It Out. A few weeks after the albums release, they let slip via their fanclub mailing list (no internet in those days) that if you rewound the CD beyond the start of Check It Out you’d get this, a track called Citizen’s Band. And it’s magic. “Tried my hand at the citizen’s band, I’m a breaker that breaks.” A slow burner, it finishes in a flurry of fuzz guitar, handclaps and Keith Moon drum rolls. Nice falsetto backing vocals too. Oh, and a flute. Oh, yeah, and a stolen melody from part of their own ‘Hometown Unicorn’.

Following on from this Super Furry revelation I spent an afternoon going through all my SFA records looking for hidden tracks to no avail. Imagine my surprise then when Outspaced (early singles/b-sides/rarities compilation) was released. Rewinding the first track, I found this. ‘Outspaced‘ (the track) is an instrumental that builds and builds from a few electro bleeps and pleasantly strummed chords into a behemoth of a track that could only be describes as The Beach Boys playing Krautrock. To think I might never have heard it…

SFA-Slow-Life

I can’t find any more hidden gems amongst my SFA collection, but if you know something I don’t, please let me know. Until then, here’s a couple of Super Furry rarities for you. First up, the Street Edit (ie very sweary) of Motherfokker. Sounding like a stoned n’ swaggering Shaun Ryder, it’s quite amusing and very sweary. It features some of Goldie Lookin’ Chain, but don’t let that put you off. Released initially on the Japanese ‘Slow Life’ ep, you can find it on a few other SFA releases. Or you can get it here.

sfa ysbeidiau

Finally, Charge, from the b-side of Welsh language vinyl-only single Ysbeidau Heulog. A heads-down, no-nonsense Stooges assault on the senses. With added random American newsreader and the band shouting ‘Charge!’ every now and again, it’s a belter. Hear it here.

These tracks just go to illustrate what a brilliantly eclectic band the Super Furry Animals are. To do soft-rock harmonies, all out techno assault n’ battery, stoned fuzz and psychedelic acoustic balladry well is no mean feat. Especially when they often do all that and more in one song. Appreciate them while they’re here, folks. Don’t let them become the Velvet Underground for my grand children. Investigate the above tracks then nip over to superfurry.com or Play or Amazon or wherever you shop these days and fill yer trolley to the brim.

entire show, Hard-to-find, Peel Sessions

Peel Slowly And See

On constant rotation chez moi this week has been the new long player from the Super Furry Animals. It’s called Dark Days/Light Years and it’s a belter. But you probably knew that. So far ahead of everyone else in terms of originality and imagination, I would say that the Super Furry Animals are currently the Best Band on the Planet.

super-furry-animals

Except they’re clearly not on this planet. To the uninitiated, on the face of it the Super Furries are just another generic indie guitar band. But look closer. Are there any other groups who can go seamlessly from pastoral folk to fuzzed guitar psychedelia to nose bleeding Belgian hardcore-apeing techno to native language singalongs? Effortlessly? Often in the one song? Nope. Of course not. So that’s settled. The Super Furry Animals are the Best Band (almost) on the Planet.

The band clearly stockpile songs and only release them when the stars are aligned and the vibe is right. ‘Inconvenience‘ from the new album sounds like Golden Retriever from their Phantom Power album, only with better lyrics. Gruff Rhys has said it was an old song looking for the right album. Looks like it found it. Even the slow songs on this album are fast, he’s said. And they are. But enough of that. If you’re a fan of SFA you’vre probably got the album by now. If you’re sitting on the fence, get off it now and hop over to any good music retailer, physical or online and take a punt. You won’t regret it. If you’re one of those folk who say you don’t like them (and there can’t be that many people), click on the link below and for free you can download the band’s Peel Session broadcast from John Peel’s house on 12th July 2001. Then get yourself over to any decent music retailer etc etc…

sfa-gruff

The session in question that was broadcast from Peel Acres is a cracker. In front of a small audience they go through 3 tracks from the Rings Around The World album that they were promoting at the time. They also play a Welsh language track that featured on that year’s Welsh language album Mwyng. But the highlight for me is the first track. Written on the way down to the session, reveals Gruff, ‘Zoom!‘ would not make it’s official appearance until 2005’s criminally under-rated ‘Love Kraft’ album. Another old song looking for the right album.

superfurryanimals

This session is as good an introduction to the Super Furries as anyone needs. Opening track ‘Zoom!‘ is a slow-burning builder of a song; a nice combination of acoustic guitars and Pink Floyd synths. By the time it had made it onto ‘Love Kraft’ it was twice as long and had swimming pool splashes, trumpets and all sorts of sonic embellishments on top, but the version here is pretty much complete from the off. Second track, ‘Fragile Happiness’ is worth hearing purely for the way mumbling Gruff sings “We’ll go to Miami“. It also sounds uncanilly like fellow pastoral folkies Gorkys Zygotic Mynci (seek them out if you’ve never heard them). With my ignorance of the Welsh language I have absolutely no idea what is being sung on ‘Nythod Cacwm’, but it’s that melodic you can sing along without needing to know the words anyway. Sevem minute long lighters-in-the-air power ballad ‘Run! Christian, Run!‘ follows and the whole session finishes with the excellent ‘A Touch Sensitive’. Sadly, not a cover of the Fall track (and given the setting, you could be forgiven for thinking that), it’s a hypnotic instrumental that sounds like the theme to some long lost sci-fi spy film. Big bass line, bubbling analogue synths, an echoey, dubby piano riff and Krautrock drums. Yep. Super Furry Animals. Hands down Best Band (almost) on the Planet.

sfa_feb2009

Beardy, weirdy and bloody magic