It’s strange how as the years of our existence wane, we often discover that some of the brash behaviors we may have once been involved with seem merely uninteresting. Speaking on a smaller scale, a recent excursion to the beach resulted not in hours of sun baked attempts at “catching waves” or immersion in sand front activities (often referred to as “getting drunk on the beach”) but rather in the most mundane of manners – things like soaking in the rays and, gasp, reading! As humorous as it may seem to you, a 22-year-old-going-on-44 is not as alarming as it would appear. The energy it takes to rip through beer bongs has transferred itself into the need to comprehend works written by strange Welsh musicians and the desire to destroy the inklings of hope in a fraternity pledge has been replaced by the desire to control spoiled 13-year-olds into learning the basic idea of past and present tense. Alas, this boy is getting old and sometimes keeping up with the meandering vigor is as futile as an attempt to comprehend the words that slur out of a mid-speech Bob Dylan.
Similarly, as our musical tastes grow old, our interests often veer towards places of warmth and comfort (or those that do not induce nausea); it’s a seemingly natural process – like a once proud beast whose ability to run and hunt has severely declined over the years; it just lazes around in the afternoon glow of the African plain. And for someone who has spent days in post-ruckus recovery and weeks shivering in similar boots to one Private Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence, the wonderment of delight to the warm, soothing sound of the opening bars of “Hello Sunshine” is endless welcome. Be it the smooth coastal melodies, the slow simmering slide guitar and tender percussions; it is a fine open-armed calling to brief Fab Four parallels and Pacific Coast drives. In “Liberty Belle”, Rhys and company adapt a slightly more upbeat tone, but one that seeks its poise in its global traveling grace; brilliantly spirited and soaring so, it treads on Roger McGuinn-esque 60’s folky rock. This sort of unconditional fuzzy feeling is a dominant texture throughout Phantom Power (only on a few instances do they tap less organic means – most evident in the glitchy “Slow Life”); sprinkled so well that the Super Furry Animals belong in the same group as The Beatles, The Beach Boys and of course, The Byrds.
Yet, in an unexpected twist, SFA adapt a far gloomier lyrical ménage on several occasions; “Liberty Belle” is musically suited for sweet romance – but instead prod at the political mess (or as labeled here, the “gulf of misery”) of superpower countries flexing their bravado. The instrumental chant-like “Golden Retriever” is a jangly piece filled with darker tendencies; “You’ll need protection / from every direction / but she’ll get you any how”, while the hushed hum stalking “The Piccolo Snare” is smeared by biting descriptions of cannon fodder bleeding (“Have you ever seen the sea / painted red by a bleeding army?”) and lost hope (“Of pawns who will never find peace / tumbledown to the piccolo snare”). Thoughts of despair that ring once again in the musically quaint and mellow “Bleed Forever”: “There’s no console / it’s no game / we were going places / it’s such a shame”. This bipolar union of musical serenity and (mostly) caustic diatribe is the sort of searing combination that separates SFA’s latest, mostly snug musical outing from just simply being lukewarm.
Greener pastures it seems, has found its place in their hearts – and perhaps a trip to Wales might see the same plateaus, landscapes and valleys that is synonymous with the Golden State and the mid and old west. Welcoming, warm, and richly textured – this, their sixth full length disc is the soothing accompaniment to those wildly descriptive and potent stories old Uncle Abe told you of his time in America’s badlands (as interpreted by way of Cardiff, Wales). And for someone who seeks a more personal inquisition, this is the best way to melt away a burning day; for those who are seeking restitution for the torrent of crimson and desolation, Phantom Power is the perfect soundtrack to the looming apocalypse that may plague your soul.
(Epic Records / Sony UK)