Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys

Welsh orchestral psych-popsters the Super Furry Animals?once described as making some of the “goopiest” guitar rock around?return to North America late this month on the heels of their recent release, Hey Venus. Released digitally in August, the album (with bonus material) will be available in brick and mortar stores in January.

Super Furry Animals Hey VenusIn the same vein as 2005’s Love Kraft, Super Furry Animals’ eighth release is again more of a full-band effort, with principal songwriter/frontman Gruff Rhys sharing songwriting duties with his cuddly compatriots. After the slower guitar rock of Love Kraft, Hey Venus marks a return to the upbeat sound of Super Furry Animals circa Rings Around the World (2001). Pop songs get juiced with a little bit of soul, all wrapped within a symphonic sense of pop experimentation and a Spectorish wall of sound. Thanks is due in large part to the lusciously layered string arrangements of High Llamas frontman Sean O’Hagen. The deft arrangements of these shimmering, kaleidoscopic songs is nothing short of dazzling—shapes and sounds move and metamorphose in an organic, otherwordly way—a sitar line here, a French horn or a trumpet solo there. No less mind-bending is the album cover, which features a bizarre cartoon by Japanese artist Keiichi Tanaami, an early acid experimenter.

Without the trappings of a concept album, Hey Venus is a loose narrative about the encounters of a young thing named Venus who moves from the country to the big city. In a Pitchfork interview, Rhys explained that the songs deal with “loss of innocence and corruption.”

Super Furry AnimalsBut Hey Venus is anything but a downer, opening with the rockin’ teaser “This Song,” which breaks into the classic Girl Groups-esque “Run Away,” complete with falsetto and a chorus as catchy as anything the Furries have ever done. “The Gift That Keeps Giving” is pure old-school soul, with Rhys channeling his inner Smokey Robinson, backed with Motown harmonies. There’s the breezy Zombies-esque “Show Your Hand,” while “Suckers!” features some of the drollest lyrics you’ll ever hear over a sweet piano melody. The album’s most psychedelic track, “Battersey Odyssey,” was written and sung by “Bunf” (Huw Bunford) and recalls alt rock band the Beachwood Sparks. And since the Furries love puns, there’s “Carbon Dating,” written and sung by the band’s keyboardist Cian Ciarán, with its “Theme from A Summer Place” 6/8-time feel and a string arrangement that borders on campy. Then there’s the driving (pun intended) Welsh-sung number “Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru,” a hypnotic track that repeats like a mantra (it translates as “Drive Drive Drive”).

It’s been a busy year for Rhys, who also released his second solo album, the whimsical and wonderful Candylion, written completely on acoustic guitar. Compared to the Super Furry Animals, Candylion is a muted, stripped-down affair employing sound effects and the occasional Spanish-language lyric. The album touches on everything from global warfare (“Cycle of Violence”) to the nonsense of the relentlessly charming title track, which uses a simple xylophone line lifted from “Tracks of My Tears.”

When it comes to playing experimental pop coupled with outré stage antics and a sense of the theatrical, the Super Furry Animals are sort of the Welsh equivalent of the Flaming Lips (well, no fake blood, but they have dressed in Yeti costumes). Their seemingly effortless ability to assimilate all the great pop, psych, soul, and rock genres and come up with their own hybrid is euphoric and intoxicating. Super Furry Animals’ live shows are always heady, unearthly experiences.

Super Furry Animals Winter Tour

01/27 - Washington, DC - 930 Club
01/29 - Carrboro, NC - Cats Cradle
01/30 - Atlanta, GA - Variety Playhouse
01/31 - New Orleans, LA - The Republic
02/01 - Dallas, TX - Granada Theatre
02/02 - Austin, TX – Emo’s
02/05 - Tucson, AZ Club - Congress
02/06 - Solona Beach, CA - Belly Up Tavern
02/08 – Los Angeles, CA - Echoplex
02/09 - San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall
02/11 - Portland, OR - Doug Fir
02/12 - Seattle, WA – Neumo’s
02/15 - Minneapolis, MN - Varsity Theatre
02/16 - Chicago, IL - Metro
02/17 - Detroit, MI - Magic Stick
02/18 - Buffalo, NY - Tralf Music Hall
02/20 - Toronto, ONT - Mod Club
02/21 - Montreal, QUE - Cabaret
02/22- Ithaca, NY - Cornell University
02/23 - Boston, NY - The Paradise
02/25 - New York, NY - Bowery Ball Room