They may well be stamped "Product of Wales", but eccentric pop superstars Super Furry Animals inhabit a solar system that's light years away from all things traditionally Welsh. Though Rings Around the World
garnered SFA a smidgen of mainstream approval (more so at home than abroad), it was also one of the most fantastically warped pop records of recent memory. Happily, its equally phantasmagorical follow-up exudes a similar measure of experimental pop exuberance and extraterrestrial strangeness.
As mindlessly captivating an album as you're likely to hear all year, Phantom Power is where the honeyed invocations of Mwng crash headlong into Guerilla's cosmic psych-hop and emerge from the rubble squeaky-clean. While the group has mostly jettisoned Radiator's everything-but-the-kitchen sink aesthetic in favor of songs with traditional structures and timeless melodies, their innate oddness can't help but seep through the cracks. The frazzled power-pop of "Liberty Belle" harks back to the days of Fuzzy Logic, and shimmering interstellar country ditty "Sex, War & Robots" is Lee Hazelwood dosed on blackberry brandy and pixie dust, while the stammering "Out of Control" is pitched around a plague-strength riff and Gruff Rhys's catty vocals, and "The Piccolo Snare" is what the Beach Boys would have sounded like had Brian Wilson forgone therapy in favor of marathon studio sessions with the 13th Floor Elevators (and copious amounts of LSD).
Though they kit themselves out as master pop craftsmen, the Super Furries remain jacks of all trades and masters of none. The thing they still do better than anyone else on the planet is fuse the erstwhile with the futuristic -- the sweeping Van Dyke Parks-isms of "Father Father (strings)" segue discreetly into the bizarre techno-rock of "Valet Parking", the quasi-classical intonations of the former never distracting from the latter's lewd freak-funk misgivings.
As rock'n'roll moves steadily toward the gutter, Super Furry Animals once again prove themselves to be a breed apart -- pop stars who keep their clothes on, rock stars without the overblown egos and excessive emotional baggage, and a owners of a sparkling sonic palette that never resorts to hackneyed clichés or gimmickry.