Review Summary: ...
The Super Furry Animals are definitely one of the most interesting bands to come out during the Britpop era, all the way back in 1995. Their ever shifting forays into a cartoon-ish electronic field always felt odd in contrast to their pop-rock leanings and various other influences. However, this is what made their late 90s and early 00s records so different and special. Luckily, their latest effort is mainly based on various ideas the band have been working on for years, but never materialized. As a result, Dark Days/Light Years
borrows ideas from various moments in SFA's career, offering new thrills as well.
Of all Super Furry Animals albums, Dark Days/Light Years
feels the loosest, being based on jams and less conventional song structures. For example, "Crazy Naked Girls" features basic instrumentation, consisting of drums and some background effects, slowly growing into one of their hardest rockers. The leads and vocal delivery sound like the band was drunk in the studio, using falsettos and screams. The same goes with the closer "Pric", with its groovy bass rhythm stretching for 6 minutes, while the rest of the guys just add guitars, soundscapes and whistles.
Even the vocal duties are split more than usual on Dark Days/Light Years
in between the lead singer Gruff Rhys, keyboard player Cian Ciaran and guitarist Huw Bunford. This way, each song here has a different vibe, as the member come with their own approach and lyrics. Still, no matter who sings there's the same penchant for catchiness and pop leanings that can't be confused. They are most evident on the single "Inaugural Trams" and "White Socks/Flip Flops". The former goes for a cute, childish approach on the lyrics "I will design in the image of your face/Round the wrinkles of your eyes my footsteps you can trace.", complete with vocoder and cartoonish keyboards mimicking trains. Franz Ferdinand's guitarist Nick McCarthy makes an appearance, delivering a spoken interlude in German, that makes no sense but adds to the funny nature of the tune. The latter, sung by Huw Bunford, starts by mocking himself ("I look like a loser/Coming from the gutter") and then turns into another sweet, non-sense sing-along. The whole track is lovely and its addictive nature makes it one of the highlights.
Out of all the strong material found here, the song that has the most charm is "The Very Best Of Neil Diamond", portraying an apocalyptic scenery, where the "radio cassette plays on as the kitchen's crushed" and you can hear Diamond's "cry come through concrete rubble mound". Besides the humorous lyrics, the track has a slightly different atmosphere than the rest of the record. The electric saz leads played by Gruff and the orchestration that surrounds it, give an Eastern tinged pleasant sound from the rest of the record, much like "Juxtapozed With U" had its own spot on Rings Around The World
. This way "The Very Best Of Neil Diamond" can be viewed as Dark Days/Light Years
' centerpiece, stealing the spotlight from the 8 minute epic "Cardiff In The Sun".
Keeping some of the structures of the previous short and to-the-point Hey Venus!
, the band leaves the material lighter and don't bloat it with unnecessary parts. Also, the songs head several directions, such as the laid-back disco beats of "Moped Eyes", the Welsh sung "Lliwiau Llachar" or the semi acoustic "Mt." with its slide guitar solos. Nevertheless, each of them has its own merit and a deserving spot on this great record.
It's really great to see how various ideas that would seem disjointed on paper turned into a lovely, cohesive effort. The band proved they can churn a record from complete rubble and unexpectedly make it one of the highlights of their career. While the previous two full-lengths, Hey Venus!
and Love Kraft
, felt too familiar and lost the more experimental nature, Dark Days/Light Years
goes both ways, thus becoming more rewarding. It's a great starting point for newcomers and old fans have a lot to enjoy here too.