Super Furry Animals Exercise 'Power'
"You have to mix it up a bit," says Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys. "We always want to try out different ways of playing our music.""You have to mix it up a bit," says Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys. "We always want to try out different ways of playing our music."
This should come as no surprise from the creators of the biggest-selling Welsh-language album of all time, a band that merges techno and acoustic pop, once toured in a painted tank and was one of the first groups to release an album simultaneously on DVD and CD. But 10 years into a most unique career, the Super Furries are still searching for new paths, and their sixth album, "Phantom Power," released July 29 by XL Recordings/Beggars Group, finds them actively exploring the boundaries of pop.
"Phantom Power" is a streamlined distillation of the widescreen pop fantasies of 2001's "Rings Around the World." The album is studded with the disparate likes of crunchy prog-rock single "Golden Retriever," space-country epic "Sex, War, & Robots," ethereal pop ballad "City Scape Sky Baby," sunny, super-ska thumper "The Undefeated," melodically majestic closer "Slow Life" and a pair of thematic instrumentals titled "Father Father" after the guitar tuning in which they were written (DADDAD).
Unlike "Rings," a polished, delicately sequenced breakthrough which almost became a double album, "Phantom Power" is more of a grab bag of SFA's different song styles, each primped to perfection in a makeshift studio in the group's hometown of Cardiff, Wales.
"There was so much new material," Rhys says of the album's genesis. "We had about 60 pieces of music to choose from. We have been threatening to make an instrumental album for years, so we could have done that, and then we had some sort of sugary pop electronic upbeat songs and we also had a collection of acoustic songs written in the DADDAD tuning."
They ended up selecting their favorites from each of these categories and concentrating on working each song over in the studio in whatever manner suited it best. "We're not purist about genres, or sticking to one influence," says bassist Guto Pryce. "With each song, we do whatever we feel is necessary to make it work."
"Phantom Power" will be the band's second album to be released on DVD as well as traditional CD. Rhys explained that the band members fell in love with the format because of its ability to offer an enhanced audio experience.
"Basically, with the ['Rings'] DVD, a lot was made of the films that were played with the songs," Rhys says. "To a certain extent, that was not our goal in making the DVD. We wanted to make a surround-sound album. So with this DVD, we're taking the emphasis off the visuals while the sounds are playing."
Animator Pete Fowler, the group's longtime collaborator, has created visual "wallpaper" that morphs throughout the playing of the album's songs as well as tiny animation clips that run in between the songs on the DVD, for which the band recorded new mini-soundtracks. All the audio is mixed in 5.1 surround sound, including remixes for each of the album's songs. Design collective NoBrake also produced 14 video clips corresponding with each album track for the DVD, but the discs will initially default to the audio-focused "wallpaper" setup.
"We're still experimenting with the DVD format," Rhys says. "We've managed to put more things on the DVD than it was ever designed for. We're trying to push the medium as far as it can go."
The same could be said for the group's music, which has leapt nimbly across genres and styles since the 1996 full-length debut "Fuzzy Logic" (Columbia).
While the band has yet to find a Stateside audience to rival its European following -- "Rings" is the group's biggest-selling album in the U.S. with 32,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- it definitely has an appreciation for its small but devoted North American following. A U.S. tour with Grandaddy kicks off Sept. 18 in San Francisco.
"It'll be exciting; we'll be touring in the U.S. before anywhere else this time," Rhys says.
As was the band's modus operandi for its last two albums, it has created an album-specific Web site at Phantom-power.com. Audio and video previews of the CD and DVD are currently streaming from the site, which also has news, a message board and other features. For more information, visit the newly redesigned Superfurry.com.