label: Beggars XL Recordings
our score: 5.0 out of 5.0
a huge fan of the Super Furries, but I didn't know where they'd
go after Rings Around the World. Well, Phantom Power
is where they've gone, and damned if it isn't the gorgeousest
album of the year, and of their entire gorgeous career. From the
passionately mellow summer doo-wop of "Hello Sunshine"
to the two instrumental interludes called "Father Father"
to the "Tusk"-styled uplifting pep-rally of "The
Undefeated," Phantom Power contains more timeless
melodies, more sonic texture, more perfectly honed (but still
off-kilter) lyrics, and more flat-out wonder at what five humans
in a recording studio can accomplish than anything else I've heard
this year, except possibly for Mexico's (somewhat similarly styled)
El Gran Silencio. The Super Furries set out to make the Greatest
Pop Album they could make, and they hit the bullseye.
is more country-inflected than longtime fans are used to, maybe,
and their Beach Boys fixation is by now completely out of control.
But these are good things, because they provide them the chance
to integrate their techno and rock fetishes into a wider context.
They're not running back and forth between different kinds of
music anymore—every song contains every music. In the middle
of the deliberate "Bleed Forever," we hear subtle little
synth lines that contribute to the song instead of just saying
"HEY HERE WE ARE!" In the next song, the tense metallic
boogie "Out of Control," we hear rollicking honky-tonk
piano. And the seven-minute closer "Slow Life" starts
out being a Cian Ciaran techno showpiece, verges into electroclash
and symphonic pop and 70's boogie and alt.country, and then back
to a big ol' good ol' SFA computer meltdown, and then back
again, probably the single most intense thing they've ever
done and inspirational to boot. It's all fair, it's all love,
it's all gravy.
But it's not just that the record sounds
good. This is a record with tension at its heart. On the one hand,
main lyricist/singer Gruff Rhys is mad and angry and confused
about the political and economic and ecological state of the world;
on the other, he and the rest of the band are trying to find peace
through music. "Liberty Belle" recasts the Statue of
Liberty as a superheroine gone mad ("Memory babe forgot her
way / After all this time / And she never learned from her mistakes
/ And all the crime") but its sweet XTC-esque melody makes
the medicine go down smoothly. Song after song fights this battle:
Is the title character in "Golden Retriever" the devil
or a dog? (answer: both); is the Russian woman in "Cityscape
Skybaby" a murderer or a hero? (answer: both); is this world
better described by "The Undefeated" or "Sex, War
& Robots"? (answer: again both).
Music is clearly the only escape for these
Welshmen, and in fact for all of us. In "The Piccolo Snare,"
the protagonist actually learns to about deal with thinking about
war by imagining his way into a drum sound. Now THAT's a solution:
keep your eyes open, but surround yourself with perfect sound.
And this album is the perfectest, beautifulest, gorgeousest sound
of the year.
P.S. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that
the best song on the record is about a kid raised by wolves who
turns for solace to his pet turtles named for the Williams sisters,
with the chorus "Venus and Serena understand." Just
so you know: they're still a bunch of weirdos. But they're OUR
weirdos. Cherish them.
liked Phantom Power...
2. Liberty Belle
3. Golden Retriever
4. Sex, War, & Robots
5. The Piccolo Snare
6. Venus And Serena
7. Father Father (Horns)
8. Bleed Forever
9. Out Of Control
10. City Scape Sky Baby
11. Father Father (Strings)
12. Valet Parking
13. The Undefeated
14. Slow Life