Super Furry Animals
Dark Days/Light Years
(Rough Trade; 2009)
By David M. Goldstein | 24 April 2009
That Dark Days/Light Years is Super Furry Animals’ ninth studio album in fourteen years of existence—and you don’t really need me to tell you that it’s good—is sort of an anomaly in that all the members actually seem to enjoy each others’ company. They treat symphonic rock music like a proper vocation, putting out a kick ass record every two years, consistently able to indulge in side projects and solo albums, and dutifully touring before heading back to the studio for the next go ‘round. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting head animal Gruff Rhys a few times, and he’s never been less than swell, which is unsurprising based upon his band’s reputation for good cheer. The quality of the Super Furry discography is not up for debate.
But 2007’s Hey Venus!, while unquestionably accomplished and typically enjoyable, still heralded a time when the Furries were starting to tread water: its emphasis on simple pop songs hearkening back to their earliest records played it a wee bit too safe, perhaps in response to its predecessor, 2005’s excellent, if uncharacteristically glum, Lovekraft. No less reactionary for this biennial, SFA wisely opt for a curveball on Dark Days/Light Years by placing the glut of their sound in their heretofore-underrated rhythm section. This is the Furries’ “groove” album; traditional pop structure is downplayed and the lyrics practically marginalized in favor of ramping up the drums in the mix and allowing bassist Guto Pryce and drummer Dafydd Ieuan to have a field day. Super Furry Animals have in effect made a Sea and Cake record.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. After Hey Venus! suggested that maybe the well had begun to run dry, there’s huge pleasure to be had in listening to SFA get their swerve on, especially when the songs strut as hard as “Moped Eyes,” a stone cold groove Spoon could appreciate with easily the album’s catchiest chorus (“I can see through your lies / ‘Cuz you’ve got moped eyes”), Gruff’s falsetto glued to a radiator, clouded and steamed. Then there’s “The Very Best of Neil Diamond,” supposedly a tale of a post-apocalyptic environment in which the lone remaining sound is a stereo blaring “Solitary Man.” Fair enough, even if the vocals are mixed far too low to make any of this out. Anyway, an awesomely clattering, hypno-Moroccan funk line renders lyrical content moot, save Gruff Rhys’s chanted refrain of “trust, but verify,” less itself a proper chorus than a separate element of the beat. “White Socks/Flip-Flops” is the sound of five stoned Welshmen jamming the crap out of “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and snappy, coy “Mt.” is apparently about “a big fucking mountain.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Thus, their two-song take on krautrock is also pretty great, if indulgent, not that that’s ever really mattered. First single “Inaugural Trams” is only rivaled by “Moped Eyes” in terms of sheer catchiness, a supremely bouncy ode to an shining, beeping metropolis in which, as is often the case with the band’s goofy metaphors and goofier arrangements throwing the focus from latent political and social commentaries, the title subject embodies “monumental progress,” capable of “reducing emissions by seventy-five percent!” And album ender “Pric” is the other ride on the Autobahn for Dark Days, an E Major cruiser that seems to contain a whistled version of the melody from 2007 Furry track “The Gateway Song” while otherwise sounding a heck of a lot like Wilco’s “Spiders.”
At the risk of sounding redundant, this being Super Furry Animals, there just isn’t that much to dislike. They’re the aural equivalent of my childhood buddy Marc, who spent high school eternally stoned but still managed to get accepted to Yale (and eventually Harvard Med) while being devoid of any of the pretension usually associated with such things. Super Furry Animals couldn’t break a sweat if they tried, and while Dark Days/Light Years finds them glowing more than anything, the time may come when the treadmill’s gathering dust and a habit becomes just that. Cynicism isn’t eactly a trait best suited for discussions about this band, but isn’t it easier to believe that prolificacy is bound to overtake quality? Yes, it is, but like I stated previously, their quality is not up for debate.