Super Furry Animals – Dark Days/Light Years

Rough Trade

For studio album No. 9 the Super Furry Animals decided to forgo writing new material instead choosing to cull tunes from 15 years worth of pre-show jams and toy songs from practice sessions. The outcome is a tremendous return to form. While recent efforts have hardly been disappointing they fell short of the high water mark set by landmark records like Phantom Power and Rings Around the World.

Where 2005’s Love Kraft drooped into average turf after an amazingly strong first half Dark Days/Light Years is a consistently ecstatic experience from start to finish. And where 2007’s Hey Venus! was a rapid-fire collection of short rather homogeneous rock songs the new album jumps frenetically from style to style drawing out numerous passages to the point of indulgence and breathing new life into some of the band’s oldest tricks.

Album opener “Crazy Naked Girls” for example toys with one of SFA’s favourite formulas by bleeding from an intense electronic intro into a straightforward rock jam. Going far beyond a mere inversion of “Slow Life” it features singer Gruff Rhys spitting typically acerbic lyrics over epic arena-rock riffs caked in enough wah-wah to satiate anyone looking for a quick Hendrix throwback.

Galloping onward the jam-based esthetic yields a plethora of different musical styles meshed with in-jokes. Gruff uses “The Very Best of Neil Diamond” the tale of an apocalypse soundtracked by a cassette tape playing “Sweet Caroline” as a vehicle for vaguely Middle Eastern riffs and vocal ululations produced by singing through a corrugated tube.

Elsewhere “Inaugural Trams” is a Krautrock-tinged pop gem featuring a (possibly bawdy) German rap passage by Franz Ferdinand’s Nick McCarthy. As revealed on the excellent short film that accompanies the album (currently available on Pitchfork.tv) the band “stole back” this idea from a bizarre Manfred Mann song that cops its chorus from SFA’s “Demons” and features German hip hop sensation Thomas D.

Given the fact that it’s barely removed from a rarities compilation Dark Days/Light Years is a remarkably cohesive record thanks to the universal emphasis on vocal harmonies. With a battery of voices modulated by a huge arsenal of effects this technique has become the SFA imprimatur and this album is its best showcase in recent history. From the Prince-like sex-groove of “Moped Eyes” to fist-pumping good-times rockers like “White Socks/Flip Flops” and “Cardiff in the Sun” this material is optimally appreciated by considering its sung contributions first and foremost with the surrounding backing tracks observed in soft focus.