2014 has been the year of the Super Furry Animals side project, and the latest comes care of guitarist Huw “Bunf” Bunford. The Pale Blue Dots is a particularly interesting hook-up as it sees Bunf exploring his musical kinship with seasoned composer Richard Chester, the pair having met and hit it off when Chester taught a class as part of Bunf’s MA studies in Film Composition.
Suffice to say, I was intrigued. Happily, the sound they have created on the Lots Of Dots album is as much fun as its origins would suggest, layering joyful, chunky-riffed psych pop with inventive and unexpected flourishes.
The film score fascination is apparent from the off, as ‘Tokyo Hotel Silence’ opens the record with an atmospheric collage of found sounds, evoking rain on windows and the muffled murmurs of a not-quite-sleeping city. The stall set out for an intricate and careful album, it is then gleefully blasted out of the way by the emphatically hammered piano opening of ‘Slow Reaction’, which marries an unmistakeable pop thrust with some clever tempo alternation. ‘Devastation’ bowls in with the same Super Furry sense of outright enjoyment, like an eager labrador thundering around a garden, impossible not to love despite making mincemeat of the lawn.
Strong vocals and bouncing rhythm on ‘Reach For The Keys’ are woven in with speech samples, winding up with some playfully eerie vocal wanderings before 40-second skit ‘Silent Tokyo Hotel’ looms swiftly in to shift the mood, recalling its almost-namesake, this slip of a sonic postcard loosening the momentum while tightening the tension.
Tangy and steely, the guitar intro to ‘No Motivation’ brings to mind the highly stylised ’50s American dustbowl atmosphere of The Raveonettes, a paean to lethargy with a rose-tinted hue as in the movies, emphasised by Bunf’s shapeshifting guitar playing. ‘Aquarium’ floats in woozily on a White Album-era Beatles meets Super Furries’ ‘Presidential Suite’ tip, with flittery flashes of Kate Bush, morphing slyly through various stages of an adventurous structure.
The cold, clinical bleeps that introduce ‘Look Into My Eyes’ give way to a bass and synth-driven pop nugget that melds a touch of Ariel Pink oddness with the retro-futuristic sheen of Neon Neon, one of the many side projects of Bunf’s day-job colleague Gruff Rhys. A metallic screech piercing the simple and optimistic refrain on this track epitomises the eccentric and at times apparently incongruous palette of noises that pop up throughout the album and lend texture, depth and imagination. Closing out in Spaghetti Western style ‘Nebraska’ is steeped in rueful emotion, lending the feel of a camera panning slowly out across a desolate plain from the scene of a final showdown.
Lots Of Dots goes to show what an integral part Bunf has played in the warm, fuzzy and psychedelic yet hyper-lucid signature Super Furry sound, and in some senses the apple has not fallen far from the tree. Yet, in this collaboration he has also found something new to explore and to offer, ultimately tying together a subtly intriguing and complex mix of moods into an interestingly shaped and seamless listen.
At only nine tracks, two of which are really skits, Lots Of Dots passes in a blink and my main complaint would be that there isn’t more of it. Bunf apparently has a library bursting with found sounds and field recordings, collected over his worldly travels, that he is looking forward to deploying in all sorts of ways in the future. I can’t wait.