Album Review: Super Furry Animals, Dark Days/Light Years

[from MadeLoud, June 22, 2009]

Its bouncy delivery forces the chorus to “Inaugural Trams” to sound like “inaugural drugs,” a phrase which would fit almost everything about Super Furry Animals’ Dark Days/Light Years more fully than its actual non-controlled-substance-containing lyrics. From the wah-soaked opener “Crazy Naked Girls” to the blinding psychedelia of the cover art to the album’s pervasive long, deep grooves all the way to the fuzz leads and hypnotic bassline of closer “Pric,” Dark Days/Light Years reeks of a highly potent brand of rock, considerably stronger than it might have been even in its parents’ more experimental day.

Indeed, it’s those highly distorted, acid-drenched six minutes of the increasingly frenetic “Crazy Naked Girls” that set the standard for the rest of Dark: tons of sound and plenty of style, but not necessarily the most tightly crafted or highly focused of songs, as though the group went to the next room for some reason but forgot exactly what they went there for.

It’s not that Super Furry Animals lack in the writing department – witness the stomping, Allmans-esque gospel of “Mt” (“it was a big fucking mountain / so I climbed the mountain”) or the sunshiny late-60s pop of “Helium Hearts,” with its staccato keyboard and tambourines at the ready – but so much of Dark relies on the band’s quest for the mystical Far Out Jam that the group’s mostly non-spectacular solos and not-totally-unexpected riffs show their cracks all too soon. Which is a shame, because when Super Furry Animals are firing on all cylinders, Dark is something to behold. The harmonized keyboards elevate the gumdrop sing-along of “Where Do You Wanna Go?” to near fine art, even through its clumsy reggae coda, while the Welsh-language meditation of “Lliwiau Llachar” calls to mind the R.E.M. that wrote “Shiny Happy People.”

When the band does hit the note (as the saying goes), such as the pleasantly endless eight minute groove of “Cardiff in the Sun” or the aforementioned “Lliwiau Llachar,” Super Furry Animals take the seemingly retro elements of their sound (the extreme reverb, the rolling green harmonies, the bouncy melodies) and turn those pieces from kitschy retro into something closer to timeless. Rather appropriately, “Lliwiau Llachar” translates roughly to “Bright Colors,” two words which could sum up most of Dark Days/Light Years: guitar in the red, endless fields of green and melodies as golden as sunshine.