Super Furry Animals have yet to put out a bad album. More than a decade and a half into their career, not a single album stands as the one to skip. Arguments abound over the group’s best—I say Radiator, though I could accept Guerilla or Rings Around the World just as easily, and many stand by Mwng—but even their less widely heralded albums, such as Hey Venus! or Phantom Power still stand as solid collections of quirky, psychedelic pop. Ordinarily, this would be the part where you’d expect me to say “until now,” but I won’t. Proving my case yet again, Super Furry Animals pull off another laudable set of great pop songs on Dark Days/Light Years.
The band’s ninth album, Dark Days/Light Years is playful and expansive. Not as epic as Love Kraft, nor as concise and tightly constructed as their earlier albums, Dark Days finds the band settling into a groove, stretching out into dense arrangements that sound big, but have a loose, casual air about them. This is a big album with a lowercase “b.” There’s a lot going on, for sure, but the simplicity of the songs is deceptive enough to keep that complexity from becoming distracting, which is a strength the Super Furry Animals have had for quite a while, but one they’ve put aside in favor of more grandiose compositions in recent years.
The band start off on the right track, with a leadoff track titled “Crazy Naked Girls” certain to catch people’s attention, even if the song doesn’t really get off the ground until a good minute into its sprawling six-minute span. Even then, it’s minimal, with Gruff Rhys singing in fuzzy falsetto over a skeletal beat and some noisy screeching backup vocals. Once the bassline kicks in, however, the track starts to take shape, and a gigantic psych-rock jam session takes over where the minimalist approach collapses. With lyrics speaking of a “big fuckin’ mountain,” “Mt.” is a quirkier, folkier classic rock sounding track with fantastically melodic guitar leads and a solid groove. With “Moped Eyes,” the Furries take yet another stylistic diversion, easing into a funky disco track that most closely resembles Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue.”
On “Inaugural Trams,” the group soars into classic Furries mode, playing to their fuzzy pop strengths while retaining their playfulness. Over a rollicking glam rock stomp, Gruff Rhys turns the title of “Inconvenience” into a silly mantra-like refrain (example: “inconvenience/ pirate ship/ inconvenience/ stole all my shit“). Somehow, Rhys makes “trust but verify” one of the catchiest choruses on the whole album on the exotic sex jam “The Very Best of Neil Diamond” (how’s that for a WTF sentence?). And “Helium Hearts” follows that up nicely with some big synthesizers and sunny melodies.
Anyone familiar with the Super Furry Animals shouldn’t be surprised by the level of variety and vibrancy on Dark Days/Light Years. Similarly, anyone who was already a fan of the Furries will find countless things to love about this album, as should newcomers, though I still don’t know why, this day and age, anyone hasn’t listened to the Super Furry Animals. But, should that be the unfortunate case, this is as good a place to start as any, a diverse and solid set of superb pop songs that may be par for the course for a band of their sort, but miles ahead of their peers.
MP3: “Inaugural Trams”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.