"Introspection!" Such is guitarist Huw Bunford's pithy reply to a question about the theme of Love Kraft, the new album by his band, Wales' Super Furry Animals. A bit later, discussing the album's surf-rockish instrumental, Bunford will add, pretty much apropos of nothing, "Don't fear bird flu!" For an expert in all things Super, Furry and Animal, his interjection makes a kind of bizarro sense.
After all, Bunford's band has made a career out of compelling tangents. Love Kraft is SFA's seventh album and one of the band's best in a career that really has had nothing but bests. But don't feel ashamed if you've never heard of SFA; the Furries, as they were long ago nicknamed by an adoring UK press, have never really gotten their due in the States. Between the willfully whackadoo lyrics, sometimes sung in Welsh, and the music's intrepid resistance to genre-fixation, SFA records seem less like marketable "product" than strange and glowing gifts dropped from distant outer space, landing on America's doorstep only to be greeted with looks of bewilderment.
But for the SFA newbie, "Introspection!" isn't a bad place to start. Neither is Songbook, last year's singles compilation. Both tidily sum up the private niche The Furries have carved out for themselves over the years, making music that is, indeed, ecstatically thoughtful. On 2001's Rings Around The World, for example, frontman Gruff Rhys' private contemplations of loneliness and the Lewinsky scandal, "Presidential Suite," wound up sounding like a power ballad fit to roll over the closing credits of a blockbuster. The previous record, Guerilla, battled fears of Y2K-wrought apocalypse with the world's most dangerous weapon: the psych-rock maraca. In other words, SFA are the world's most remarkable alchemists of gloom: Even when the themes are somber, the music's a joy.
Though SFA albums are always sui generis--each new release has seen the band filtering their tuneful, glam-rock instincts through some new sonic prism--Love Kraft signals a notable change. More mellow, folksy and (yes) introspective than previous records, the album is also holistic in feel, whereas other LPs zigged and zagged like musical versions of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Bunford, for one, attributes the shift in tone to "an increase in confidence" among band members other than Rhys, up to now the Furries' go-to guy for songwriting. But Love Kraft was newly collaborative, Bunford says, in that everyone worked more independently. Independent collaboration: If any band could sell that oxymoron, this is the one. Think about it!
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