Super Furry Animals - Dark Days/Light Years
released 13 April 2009 on Rough Trade
It’s rare to find a critic who doesn’t like Super Furry Animals and it’s easy to see why. Since their first release in 1995 (the Welsh-language Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (In Space) EP), they’ve given us eight studio albums full of invention, hooks, catchy melodies, experimentation and downright weirdness. Not for nothing are they sometimes referred to as “the Welsh Beatles,” although giving SFA such a title is setting them up for a fall somewhat.
With the release of album number 9, Dark Days/Light Years, SFA look to follow the road well travelled. For most artists this would be a criticism, but since fashioning genre-hopping, innovative pop songs is SFA’s raison d’être, more of the same is by no means a bad thing.
So, it seems if you’re a fan of Super Furry Animals, Dark Days/Light Years will be right up your street and if you’re not, it’s hardly likely to win you over. Perhaps mindful of this, the album opens with Crazy Naked Girls, a six-minute psyche wig-out with two false starts, heavy prog leanings, manic guitar solos and a chorus of "Crazy, crazy naked girls/With nothing on.” To be honest, it’s unlikely to get playlisted on Radio 2 any time soon and fantastic fun as it is, it’s a peculiar choice for a first track.
Just to confuse the casual listener even further, the second offering is completely different in every way. It’s a bass-heavy glam stomp of a track entitled Mt and is the cousin of 2003 single Golden Retriever. It also has an opening verse that straddles the fine line between genius and idiocy ("I wasn’t looking for a mountain/There was a mountain/It was a big fucking mountain/So I climbed the mountain").
As if to prove their acumen at as many distinct genres of pop music, SFA next throw in some swaggering funk (Moped Eyes) and follow it with some tight Krautrock featuring some spoken German (Inaugural Trams). Around this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Dark Days/Light Years is simply a collection of disparate songs, rather than a cohesive album. In the age of single-track downloads and the iPod Shuffle, whether that’s a good thing or not is down to you but essentially, Dark Days/Light Years is far more than that.
Things begin to make more sense and fall into place as the album progresses and repeated listens reinforce that further. The eight-minute epic, Cardiff in the Sun, begins with guitar horribly reminiscent of The Edge at his most clichéd, but evolves into a gorgeous, shimmering, hazy dream, full of sha-la-las and warmth. White Socks/Flip Flops is elevated by beautiful harmonies and the irresistible sunshine pop of Helium Hearts is among the best songs SFA have ever recorded. Penultimate track Lliwiau Llachar is so catchy you’ll be trying to sing along despite the fact all the lyrics are in Welsh (good luck with that, by the way).
Due to awkward, clunky sequencing, Dark Days/Light Years takes longer to reveal its charms than maybe it should. Despite this, it’s still a marvellous record and evidence that despite their increasing years, Super Furry Animals are a long way from being out of ideas. Most bands would do well to create something this accomplished on their second album, let alone their ninth. Yet again, Super Furry Animals have raised the bar and shown the young upstarts how it’s done.