Reviews

Super Furry Animals

For nearly a decade the inventive Welsh quintet Super Furry Animals has been chomping on the tenets of prog and psychedelia while gleefully undermining them with elements of electronica, ragged folk-pop, and indie-rock dissonance. This is a band that has written a track around studio guest Sir Paul McCartney munching on carrots; broken into the U.K. charts with "The Man Don't Give a Fuck," on which it repeated the word "fuck" 52 times; and introduced itself to the world in 1995 with Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyndrobwllantysiliogogogochynygofod EP (which roughly translates to "in space").

Such musical theater of the absurd makes SFA the perfect group to tackle heavy themes like war, terrorism, death, and disease, right? As it turns out, absolutely. Their irresistible sixth album, Phantom Power, filters these grim topics through a characteristically jovial spirit and stylistic abandon with frequently joy-inducing results.

Frontman Gruff Rhys delivers some lyrical optimism in the aptly titled opener, "Hello Sunshine," a countrified number that plays like a drive down the California coast with Rubber Soul emanating from the car speakers. "In honesty it's been a while/Since we had reason left to smile," he drawls in his gently inviting Cardiffian tenor. That's followed by "Liberty Belle," a not-exactly-subtle meditation on American foreign policy. "You know you're digging to hell/Drowning in your oil wells/As the ashes fly from New York City/Past the grimy clouds above New Jersey," sings Rhys. Yet the indictment is softened both by the song's genial, buzzy Sixties pop and its sympathies for us regular folk who fall victim to circumstances out of our control: "The birds still sing their melodies/Songs of love and food and trees/So little do they know/Yet their days are numbered so," he offers. Even "The Piccolo Snare," which condemns jingoism in the face of war's gruesome casualties, is buoyed by heavenly harmonies and an appealing space-folk groove. Same goes for "Bleed Forever," the quintet's sweet, pedal steel-infused song about radiation poisoning.

Not all of Phantom Power's tracks are political. There's "Valet Parking," where Rhys passes his driver's test; and the seven-minute closer "Slow Life," a typically baffling and jubilant SFA mash-up of laptop electronics and Brit-pop. But the dominant message here is that there's still hope for us even in these dark days. On the underdog ode "The Undefeated," Rhys sings amid punchy horns, steel drums, and happy pub chants, "Every animal has its day/We will chase the phantoms away." SFA makes it difficult to think otherwise.

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Michael Alan Goldberg