To describe Super Furry Animals as a mere psychedelic band is shaky shorthand and even misleading. On the other hand, the veteran Welsh group has, on its certifiably sumptuous new Love Kraft album, created this years finest music for lying in the grass watching the clouds drift by. I said lying, not smoking, but you could call this stuff post-psychedelic, I guess. You could call your mom.As Welsh people are known to do, these guys go by interesting names: Theres lead singer Gruff Rhys, wholl discuss the bands oeuvre just below (keep reading); then there are Gruffs pals Cian Ciárán on keyboards, Dafydd Daf Ieuan playing the drums, one Guto Pryce on bass, and the only Huw Bunf Bunford that matters on guitar. All are capable of switching instruments around to a certain extent, and in a recent and fruitful development, on this new album, several of the band members contributed songs and lead vocals.Love Kraft, mixed by Mario Caldato, who did SFAs previous album, Phantom Power hes the guy you know from his work with Beck and the Beastie Boys is a lovely, large thing of Floydian languidity and burnished analog drum thump circa your favorite Kodak moments from 70s L.A. sessions. On this disc, the hazy effect is enhanced with string sections that swoon and swoop in ecstatic unison (several of them arranged by the bands unofficial sixth member, the redoubtable Sean OHagan of High Llamas). Schoolboy choirs dart in and out of the fray, as do vibraphones, dusty analog synths, several varieties of 68 fuzztone guitar, acoustic pianos, huffing brass and winds, insects, mopeds, atmospheric conditions and the merest wisps of 2 a.m. talk round the bar, all captured in Catalonia and Rio de Janeiro studios.Basically, Super Furry Animals do here what theyve been doing for six or so albums now, and possibly in the most effective way theyll ever do it: extremely listenable pop songs that boil down the essence of a thousand fascinating sources, with an ear toward tweaking things out of the norm, whether that comes in the form of an unusual chord progression, an atypical juxtaposition of instruments, melodic lines veering into jaw-dropping left-field bridges or subtly stunning dub effects. In most cases, the bands lyrics (mostly Gruffs) arcanely address who knows what about love and life, the planets and our Earth, though they will let a political blatancy poke its angry head out from time to time, cause why not?The difference here is a generally more uncomplicated approach to recording and mixing, which was both by design and happenstance. Its a very relaxed album, says Gruff. We dont feel any pressure to make energetic music. We just wanted to make another record. Love Kraft is also a very different SFA outing for its deeper introspection and relatively uncrowded sound field; this most likely has to do with the band having shared composing and singing duties; unlike Gruffs usual head-scratchingly oblique lyrical approach, the others tended to be a bit more personal.Round about the time of the recording of SFAs last album, engineer Caldato noticed the bands sickly pallor in the gray Londonderry air. He thought that hed like to see how a spot of sunshine would affect the group and their music, so when it came time to lay down tracks for the new one, the band packed their gear and rolled off to Catalonia.I think the heat slowed us down, says Gruff. Which mightve affected the cares and concerns addressed in the lyrics as much as it colored the music. The Brazilian-string-laden Walk You Home, for example, is one of the most straightforward songs the band has ever done. I kept looking for a trace of irony in it, but couldnt find one ?no, the guys smitten, and he really wants to walk her home, is all.Yeah, theres no irony there, Gruff says. Theres very little engagement with contemporary culture on the record, or contemporary music, for that matter. Our last two albums engaged to a certain extent with what was happening in the world at the time you know, you work late into the night at the studio, come home and switch on the TV after that, and you can only get the news. But this record, the Spanish and Brazilian media we were exposed to were completely different. We were completely shielded from the latest news or any horrific event, and there was a language barrier that made us feel very innocent.The clear, sweet melodic turns of Atomik Lust were no doubt a byproduct of this return to simpler pleasures, and its swathed in barrelhouse piano, rinky-dink Dr. Who synth swirl and rudimentary choral harmonies graceful and elegant in effect, not fussy or pretentious, which sums up the smart, easygoing psychedelia of this album, as does this pleasing new take on how one might lyrically express affection: Id love to see the ending someday of Citizen Kane.In Rio, Caldato located a vintage analog mixing console that had been used on numerous bossa nova and orchestral classics of the 60s and 70s, which flattened the sound and contributed to the albums glowing oranges and yellows and golden browns. Love Kraft does have its moments of the almost fearsome SFA burn, however, as on Lazer Beam (Take a shine of our lazer beam/And well cleanse all the evil within you), a loony raving lark upon swooping strings, squinky synths and hippie-60s guitar buzz, whose driving foreground franticness gets dubbed out, all of a sudden, leaving one adrift in a floating world of pure ether. We will conquer Utopia in space chariots . . .Super Furry Animals music an idiosyncratic melting down of an extraordinarily broad stylistic range has developed and grown into something truly beautiful. They are the most musically progressive and far-reaching pop band on the planet at least among those groups whose music remains accessible on a potentially mass scale. I like to imagine them topping alternative pop charts the world round, even as Im enjoying never being able to pinpoint where exactly theyre coming from.Its a clash between conservative songwriting and sonic adventure, says Gruff. Weve never quite grasped why songwriters in rock bands dont like overwhelming people sonically, with surround-sound systems and all the rest of it. And as a band, theres a lot of musical differences; we clash, but never in a personal way. I think it means that the musics never too predictable for ourselves, and I think its quite important for us that we dont actually know how the records gonna turn out when we start it.In this case, they wrapped it up with Cabin Fever, whose dolorously touching solo piano couches a simple sentiment: Welcome back, my friend. When you hear Gruff add The future now is wide open and clear to the tinkling plinks of a ratty old synth, youll gaze up at the stars and believe it.
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