Super Furry Animals - Hey Venus

Super Furry Animals are one of my favorite bands. The show I saw of their Rings Around the World tour, 2002 in Austin at the Mercury (now Parish), replete with head-swirling quadraphonic speaker set-up, is perhaps my favorite show of all time. I admittedly didn't fall in love the very first time I heard them in the 90's, I thought they were just OK. I had heard they drove around music festivals in a large blue tank that had techno music blasting out of it, that they were on Creation Records, and that I just hadn't listened well enough. I listened again to Guerrilla and it hit me - and it's funny, all of their albums are the same way for me - it's always on the second or third listen that the genius truly reveals itself, the interplay of harmonies is comprehended, the great lyric is realized (tongues are often either firmly in cheek, stuck out at bad politics, or on their first two EPs and the LP Mwng lilting unintelligibly in their native Welsh). The magnificently polished production fills the ears with warmth, repeated listenings affirming the hand-crafted care they take with every song.

They've always straddled the line between guitar-pop and electronica experimenters with various genre-bending including country thrown in, but on their newest, Hey Venus, they sound more like a proper rock band than they ever have, but at the same time they are as mellow as they've ever been. The songs are a bit simpler, leaner, less epic, more light-hearted, and both they and the album as a whole are as short as SFA have ever made. There's still the wonderful string and horn arrangements by Sean O'Hagan (Microdisney, High Llamas, Stereolab) which always provide an extra lovely richness to their sound, and a touch of 50's nostalgia at the core of several of these songs, like the doo-wop-ish "Runaway" or the summery longing strings of "Carbon Dating". Their psychedelic wackiness does still peek in from the cracks, like the random electronic arpeggio over the chorus of straight-ahead rocker "Neo Consumer", the bursts of spacey electro-whirring and Turkish-style dulcimer on "Into the Night" (Gruff says he's into mostly 70's Mediterranean pop these days), and the crickety rollercoaster-pitch trickle of the guitar on "Battersea Odyssey", or all the lyrics and 'No-no-no-no' vocals on "Baby Ate My Eightball" or that song's polyrhythmic bridge. Even a relatively subdued song like"Carbon Dating" has sound effects at the end that sound like the shrieking metallic apocalypse at the end of "Full Metal Jacket". But mostly here they're showing how brilliantly keeping things in check can sound, especially after the previous album, the less-focused Love Kraft. Closing track "Let The Wolves Howl At The Moon" is a late-night piano-bar sing-along elevated to perfection with just a backing band and no frills, an apt close. This is SFA's first album for the beloved Rough Trade label (after a major-label stint), almost hit #10 in the UK (as almost all of their releases do, this hit #11) and entered the iTunes charts at #9, and hopefully is a sign that after over a decade as a band there's still no end in sight.

Be sure to check the SFA official site (listen to streaming tracks from this album and others in the upper-right), especially the extras section with mp3s and videos of the recording session for "Hey Venus!" (including some funny outtake tracks). Like the new AC, I've had a few months to fully digest it and be able to say without a doubt it's one of the tops of the year. You can get it now for about 14 bucks on (UK) CD at Amazon, and they have it digitally for $9.49. There is a Japanese version available with two bonus tracks, but these are also the two b-sides to the first single, "Show Your Hand" ("Aluminum Illuminati" and "Never More"). The US vinyl release is apparently in November, and domestic CD (with bonus goodies according to fansite superfurry.org) Jan 22, 2008.

Here's first single "Show Your Hand" performed live recently at UK's T4 Festival. Apparently, Yeti costumes are out and Power Rangers are in (although the drummer Dafydd Ieuan seems to be wearing a bright yellow yeti body with red arm scales? in this performance on morning TV)

Here's the video for the second single, "Runaway", starring Matt Berry (anybody see the bizarre British hospital-over-the-gates-of-hell show 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace'?) and directed by Richard Ayoade (same show - he acted, and wrote and directed episodes)

And why not take this chance to have you (again) watch the great video for Juxtaposed With U, one of the gentler cuts on 2002's "Rings Around The World", about letting go in more ways than one. Nice, serene video by Pedro Romhanyi

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