Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Super Furry Animals: Songbook: The Singles (Vol. 1)
XL / Beggars, 2004
Ffa Coffi Pawb: Am Byth
Placid Casual, 2004 / Empyrean, 2005
Fans of the inventively left-of-center Welsh pop rockers Super Furry
Animals will no doubt be delighted to get their hands on Songbook,
the band's first singles compilation. Also of interest is Am Byth
("Forever"), a best-of assemblage of pre-Furries tracks from
singer/guitarist Gruff Rhys and drummer Dafydd Ieuan, back when the two
were members of Ffa Coffi Pawb (which literally means "Everybody's Coffee
Beans," but phonetically translates to the intentionally confrontational
"Fuck Off Everybody").
Songbook serves the dual purpose of offering a few essential
non-album tracks like "Ice Hockey Hair" and the original version of
"Blerwytirhwng?" (which appeared with an exorbitant amount of drone tacked
onto the end on 1998's mixed-bag B-sides compilation Out Spaced.
Concurrently, neophytes will find Songbook a worthy introduction to
the group's creative, anything-goes style of buoyant, melodic psychedelia.
The biggest drawback to Songbook is its sequencing, which is
non-chronological (and no doubt intentionally so, considering the Furries'
mischievously playful reputation). The band's evolution from wanton
experimentalism to a smoother (though no less idiosyncratic) brand of pop
gets jumbled, as evidenced by the jittery opener "Something For The
Weekend" (recorded in 1996), followed by 2002's crooner-soulful "It's Not
The End of the World?" Although the group's core musical fingerprints are
undeniably in place on each, the energy and polish are completely
different. The first is the sound of a band more enthusiastic than
professional; the second tempers the passion of youth with a grace and
maturity befitting a band that's been around the block a few times.
Fortunately, other than the derivative, faux-'70s rev-up "Do or Die"
and the lukewarm "Play It Cool," Songbook is brimming with choice
material. The effortlessly elegant "Juxtapozed with U" remains one of the
group's most dizzyingly hummable numbers, while "Demons" is a masterstroke
of brooding intent masked behind a deceptively catchy verse-chorus-verse
Am Byth provides an interesting glimpse into the hyper-kinetic
world of Welsh pop (circa the late '80s and early '90s) from which the
Furries eventually sprang. The biggest drawback here lies in the variety
of sources from which the material was culled -- everything from cassette
to flexi-disc. Thus, you get the ultra-lo-fi, artifact-like fragment "Llosga
Nhy I Lawr," scraped (and from the sound of it, grudgingly so) from a
(many generations removed) cassette source, preceding the excellent
"Ffarout" (from the album Hei Vidal), in which the textures and
shading are both pristine and readily apparent.
Obviously, Am Byth can't be expected to stand alongside
Songbook, but it does offer a handful of impressive moments: "Breichiau
Hir" (which, according to an online Welsh-English translator, means "long
arms") features delicately shimmering guitar and some beautiful
harmonizing, while "Arwynebol Melyn" ("Superficial Yellow") sports a
strong beat and confidently purposeful chord changes. "Hydref Yn
Sacramento" boasts a mad stomp that ties in nicely with the song's
Songbook may not collect all of the Furries' best tracks (it
is a singles compilation, after all), but it still proves a solid
addition to the group's catalog. Am Byth, by comparison, is
understandably more scattershot; not only does it suffer from master
sources of varying fidelity, it also reveals a band that hadn't quite
found its musical footing. Both are essential additions for hardcore
admirers, while curious newcomers are encouraged to pick up Songbook
and, if sufficiently piqued, only then grab a copy of Am Byth to
better understand the origins of the Furries' winningly inimitable sound.
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