Now Playing: Super Furry Animals--"Slow Life"
American Sasquach (2004): Shortly after the millennium, when I still lived in Akron, my friend Matthew Keller and I were having a discussion about Britpop, and he mentioned the music of the Welsh rock group Super Furry Animals, a band I'd never heard before. Listening to their first album, Fuzzy Logic (1996), I slowly became completely engrossed in their music in both Akron and Ann Arbor to the point where I can now call them my favorite living band. Sleater-Kinney broke up, Wilco aren't that good anymore, but the SFA keep putting out excellent music even after almost (!) a decade, thanks to lead singer Gruff Rhys, guitarist Huw Bunford, bassist Guto Pryce, drummer Dafydd Ieuan, and keyboardist Cian Ciaran. Their music's a little hard to explain, usually described by critics as neo-psychedelic-electronic (with dashes of hiphop) or something like that, which comes close, but doesn't do justice to just how hard they can rock. Stephen Thomas Erlewine has a good summary of their career and reviews of their albums--along with Fuzzy Logic, Radiator (1997), Guerrilla (1999), the all-in-Welsh mwng (2000), Rings Around The World (2002), Phantom Power (2004), Love Kraft (2005), and the upcoming Hey Venus! (2007), which I'm sure I'll love hearing in a couple of weeks. All told, their music started out really hard and eclectic and then relaxed into this sort of sunny, neo-hippie haze which never took itself seriously enough to mock (a relief for me, as you can probably imagine). They never lost the eclecticism, either. With Hey, Venus!, from what I hear, they seem to have returned to their hard-rocking roots with nary a stumble; I can't wait to hear it for myself. As much as I love the band, Rhys' stuff, both with his previous band Ffa Coffi Pawb (also featuring one of the original members of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci--their collection of singles from 1986-1992, Am Byth, is a delicious listen) and in his solo career (the all-in-Welsh Yr Atal Genhedlaeth from 2004, and 2006's bilingual Candylion) is nearly as good.
Even with all that, I never had a sense of the band as individuals as I did with my other official favorites--the Kinks obviously spun around the squabbling Davies siblings, and Sleater-Kinney around the on-again, off-again tension between Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker, and... yeah, Wilco's been downgraded ("Sky Blue Sky" can bite me). I never read anything about SFA other than reviews of their albums, and despite their headliner status in the UK, it was always about the music for me. It's probably just as well, as I might have been frightened away by the delightful but intense fanbase pictured in American Sasquach. A charmingly chaotic documentary of their various American tours (which seem to stretch from about 2000 to 2004; they do a now-inevitably-eerie interview at a studio in the World Trade Center) made by Dylan Jones, Sasquach shows both the band on tour and the character and extent of their following in the United States, a pleasantly unsettling experience for me, as I hardly know anyone else who listens to their music. To see all these people grooving to songs I love (even a couple, like "Ice Hockey Hair," that I never heard until a couple of days ago) on a pretty much daily basis was a revelation, both numbing and exhilarating. With all the imagination that goes into their songs and album art, the latter courtesy of Pete Fowler and Mark Jones, it was little surprise that their stage shows were such staggering yet nimble multimedia affairs, and the guys themselves seem like a refreshingly pleasant bunch (who apparently smoke truckloads of weed--and, hey, if it bears such fruit, more power to 'em). My own favorite moment was probably when Rhys and a female fan launch into an impromptu acoustic and vocal performance of the luminous "Hello Sunshine" that's just meltingly beautiful (Rhys sounds like Orpheus must have with a head cold). Best of all, Sasquach comes as the extra to the DVD of the band's singles collection Songbook, running from their pre-Fuzzy Logic stuff to Phantom Power. I stopped watching videos a long time ago (even in situations when I had cable, MTV's increasing intellectual and musical poverty made that certain), and so I probably missed a few artistic innovations. Even so, the fuckers are astonishing, some like Svankmajer shorts with really awesome music). Pride of place go to "Hello Sunshine" and the hilarious "Golden Retriever" from Phantom Power, and the unnerving "Do or Die" and tender "Fire In My Heart" from Guerrilla (the latter video making the lyrics into a gentle joke that manages to be even more touching than the original song). There have been few depressing moments in my life recently that haven't been alleviated somehow by their wonderful music (although this November they shared credit with Father Ted and Black Books co-creator Graham Linehan). Is it genius or magic? At this point I don't really care which; I just hope they keep playing forever or just long enough so I can hear them live.