There's Nothing Warm and Fuzzy About These Animals

The Welsh group’s latest album is a sprawling, densely packed ambitious affair, filled with bouncy/sludgy ‘60’s pop melodic vistas that often sink into mysterious, dark, twisted musical and violent lyrical undergrowth. Lead singer Gruff Rhys’s chocolate-coated vocals are the perfect foil for the fatalistic, slyly rendered subject matter: the war in Iraq, war in general, pollution, petro-chemical mayhem, and even a song seemingly about two pet turtles named Venus and Serena (“Flushing meadows down the stream/Living life as though it’s a dream”). All of it is delivered lightly dusted with tuneful confectioner’s sugar.

These guys have absorbed the musical conventions of ‘60’s and ‘70’s rock so thoroughly that when they feed them back to you through their slow, methodical 21st century pores, you probably won’t detect direct quotes, though many of the gestures will sound strangely familiar. The melodic turns and deliberate arranging detours (fuzz tone guitars, flanging, etc.) map out some comfortable terrain while simultaneously taking the listener on an adventurous, sometimes disturbing journey filled with underpinnings of impending doom.

Gorgeous melodies, ingenious, often surprising arrangements, thoughtful, though often violent and disturbingly pessimistic lyrics, and richly atmospheric ear-catching vocal harmonies combine to produce one of the smartest, most satisfying albums in recent memory. Beach Boys meets the Move? Moodies meet Steely Dan? The Association shake musical hands with Procol Harum? Burt Bacharach arranges for Badfinger Spirit backs The Velvet Underground? Those musical juxtapositions merely skim the surface of the musical treasures contained in this smart, introspective and always understated disc.

The bouncy, hook-filled first tune, “Hello Sunshine,” followed by the positively infectious “Liberty Belle” may make you think you’re listening to an album of lightweight pop, but immerse yourself below the surface gloss to the lyrical intent and you will be richly rewarded and perhaps thoroughly depressed at the same time, as the Furries see the first years of the 21st Century as a very unsettling and distressing time. An intimately drawn album you can sit down with, lights out, and connect with on any number of levels, Phantom Power will move you emotionally and intellectually—though perhaps into unwanted territory.

The recording is dark and dense, yet mixed and equalized deftly, so that focus and color are left intact and musical images are projected with satisfying solidity. In some ways a sprawling, wistful musical denouement to the 1960’s, Phantom Power also points to a smarter pop musical future ahead, even as it takes a pessimistic world view.

One of my favorite records of the past year and highly recommended. Take a chance on this and I don’t think you will be disappointed. Both formats sound fine, but of course the double LP (music on three sides only) sounds more transparent and three dimensional.

gimmegimme's picture

It is not fuzzy because it was not meant to be fuzzy. But, the music is certainly great and is going to be great. - Mallory Fleming