...the[B] Super Furries[/B]' free-range ideas-farming is a vital antidote to the preservative-pumped junk that curdles music's bloodflow...
You could phrase it in terms of war. Peripheries versus consensus. Welsh versus English. Bands with ideas versus bands who might once have seen an idea on TV, but startled, quickly turned over to watch [I]DIY SOS[/I]. There’s always a battle, always a struggle – but rather than being press-ganged into some time-wasting, point-scoring squabble, the effortlessly righteous [a]Super Furry Animals[/a] lead by example. Sometimes, just by making an example of themselves – let’s recall with pleasure their early Howard Marks affiliations, their personalised tanks and pints of fizzy logic – but they’ve never stopped developing, never stopped ticker-taping ideas like some crazed code-breaking computer.
Now fourth album ‘Mwng’ – translated as ‘Mane’, “an extension of a super furry animal, something that keeps you warm” as Gruff Rhys sweetly explains – is sung entirely in Welsh, from the opening ‘Drygioni’ (‘Badness’), a wad of bubblegum so buoyant you could use it for hot-air-ballooning, to the astonishing two-part closing elegy ‘Gwreiddiau Dwfn/Mawrth Oer Ar Y Blaned Neifion’ (‘Deep Roots/A Cold Mars On Neptune’). They prefer to describe it as a “politicised” rather than “political” statement, and compared with the flag-waving, sport-triumphalism adopted by certain other bands, actively maintaining a language spoken by less than a million people shows clarity, understanding.
It’s no real culture shock – after all, Gruff has always sounded like he’s singing in Welsh. It’s a beautiful language, a perfect mirror to their musical mix of friction, space and softness. The real issue is that [a]Super Furry Animals[/a] are doing what the hell they like. ‘Ymaelodi A’r Ymylon’, a choral riot that sounds like a hypothermic Beach Boys, means either ‘Banished To’ or ‘Joining The Periphery’. A wry joke on the loss of their record label, certainly; but this record also bears witness to fading identities, lost languages, a way of life. Cian Ciaran, techno wizard, plays a harmonium instead of his more usual havoc, while the eerie ghost-march of ‘Sarn Helen’, named after a Roman Road, goes time-travelling with John Cale. ‘Pan Ddaw’r Wawr’ (‘When Dawn Breaks’) transplants the bleak wheeze and rasp of spaghetti Westerns closer to home, chill harmonium coughing desolately in the background as Gruff sings of ailing rural communities. Only ‘Drygioni’ and the Roxy Music pheromone-spray of ‘Ysbeidiau Heulog’ (‘Sunny Intervals’) are distinctly cheery; otherwise, something for the weekend is a meadow, a frown and a glass of melancholia.
It’s the superb ‘Gwreiddiau Dwfn/Mawrth Oer Ar Y Blaned Neifion’ that perhaps best encapsulates ‘Mwng’, though – a touch of emotional wildness creeping into his lovely voice, the slow lament vapourising into a free-spirited xylophone groove. Something to say, in any language.
In a world where a cheap squirt of brass is enough to equal “a new direction”, the Super Furries‘ free-range ideas-farming is a vital antidote to the preservative-pumped junk that curdles music’s bloodflow. Maybe, in the end, it does all come down to boundaries – not of land, not of language, but of imagination – leaping the barriers, ignoring the checkpoints and galloping into the horizon. A quiet army. Peripheral visionaries.