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The strange world of Super Furry Animals

The Welsh supergroup Super Furry Animals have appeared on stage with giant inflatable bears and bright blue "Peace Tanks." They’ve even dressed up as hirsute Lady Godivas. But like the Flaming Lips, they’ve always trumped those antics with their music. Their seventh album, Love Kraft (XL), reveals a softer, more introspective side of their eclectic nature. But it’s still very SFA: the lyrics are cryptic and the band remain as hard to pin down as ever.

The opening track, "Zoom," is a slo-mo groover that climaxes with a Catalan vocal choir and sprawling psychedelic guitar. It’s as good an indicator of SFA’s frazzled logic as anything. In his humorously rich and relaxed voice, de facto SFA leader Gruff Rhys sings, "Saw the Virgin Mary she was crying blood/Tears congregate into a mighty flood/Gave her some directions to a specialist/An eye doctor to help her cyst." Indeed.

Love Kraft arrives in the wake of an ambitious spring 2005 reissue program that included the entire SFA back catalogue (each with a bonus discs) on the XL label. Fuzzy Logic (’96), Radiator (’97), Guerrilla (’99), Mwng (’00), Rings Around the World (’01), and Phantom Power (’03) were joined by an SFA singles collection and a DJ remix album, Phantom Phorce.

"XL reissued the albums in America ’cause they had been on a smaller label that had folded," Gruff explains from the Cardiff offices of SFA’s British label, Placid Casual. "There are additional B-sides on the bonus CDs. We also did a singles collection, which had the imaginative title Songbook: The Singles, Vol. One. Rings . . . and Phantom Power had DVDs with remixes. Not many people got to hear those, so Phantom Phorce has remixes of every song [by Four Tet, Boom Bip, Mario Caldato Jr.] and a spoken-word narrative that links the tracks."

Also reissued was an earlier B-sides collection, Out Spaced, and a SFA DJ mix CD, Under the Influence. And as if that weren’t enough, Gruff has released two Welsh-language solo albums, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth and — with drummer Dafydd Ieuan — Ffa Coffi Pawb Am Byth. An SFA-assisted compilation of ’70s Welsh tracks, Welsh Rare Bit (Finders Keepers), also hit shelves this year.

Like most creative collectives, SFA are a continually evolving entity. Love Kraft is their first album to feature songs and vocals from the entire group. Even if some of the lyrics seem impenetrable, the songs are always buoyed by the band’s melodic finesse and penchant for whimsical sound effects.

"It doesn’t signify where all of our heads are at now," Gruff explains. "The songs we decided to record were by Dafydd and Cian [Ciárán]. They write very introspective songs from the heart. And when myself and Bunf [Huw Bunford] chose songs to record, they were similarly introspective. That was the idea — an introspective record with very little reference to contemporary music or politics."

Except for the shout-out "No more imperial colonial bastards!" on the album’s only full-on rocker, "Lazer Beam," Love Kraft is a mellow offering, recalling the Beach Boys ("Atomik Lust"), folk sing-alongs ("The Horn"), ominous easy listening ("Walk You Home"), and mindless folk pub pop ("Back on a Roll"). One eccentricity that hasn’t faded with age is SFA’s obsession with extraterrestrials. From early absurdist albums like Fuzzy Logic through the epic Rings Around the World and Phantom Power, the band have always been out there in search of close encounters of the third kind.

"We are atheists and not very superstitious, but we just have this desire that our friends from outer space come and sort the world out," Gruff deadpans. "And we watch too much Funkadelic video. ‘Lazer Beam’ is about a gigantic mother ship that comes from outer space and lands on top of an Ikea superstore, crushing it while slowly giving the staff enough time to escape. Then these super-being aliens come out and use these special laser guns that cure you of any illness and make you 50 percent more intelligent. So the aliens go around the earth shooting everybody and making them better people before going back to the remnants of Ikea and up to the mother ship. Ikea is the most-visited attraction in Wales, even more than the castles."

Recorded in the Catalan Pyrenees and mixed in Rio de Janeiro by Mario Caldato Jr. (of Beastie Boys fame), Love Kraft marks a departure for SFA in that they no longer seem bothered with politics. "Aliens are timeless," Gruff responds. "But politics has gone into the realm of fantasy now with intelligent design and all these sort of fantasy ideas. We can’t compete with that."

And for their current US tour, which comes to the Roxy this Monday, he reveals that they’ve been inviting any wayward aliens above to join them for an encore. To hear him tell it, the band members themselves are going to look fairly alien: "We have been experimenting with the light show: we have a video screen for an audio visual happening, but we’ve also got some new suits which emit light. We’ve plugged ourselves into the lighting system for this tour. The suits are metallic blue, and when they are powered up they are kind of bright green. It is like a Celtic Tron."

Super Furry Animals + Caribou | Roxy, 279 Tremont St, Boston | Nov 7 | 617.931.2000


Issue Date: November 4 - 10, 2005
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