If I have learned one thing in my time on this planet, it is not to try and second-guess a Super Furry Animal. The experimental Welsh rock band’s overall style has always managed to be at once immediately distinctive and joyfully progressive, each album proving to be a revelation, every gig abuzz with added cult hero extras like crazy headgear, costumes and a generally vivid display of personality. Now on hiatus while the various members pursue side-projects, the band’s individual elements are being revealed in relief. As frontman Gruff Rhys has evolved, via a string of idiosyncratic and high concept outings, into one of our most revered cultural experimenters, bassist Guto Pryce has been getting back to basics. His new band, Gulp, grew from a period of tinkering away in the home studio with his partner, the singer and synth player Lindsey Leven, and the spoils of those sessions reveal themselves in the Season Sun album.
As someone who is apt to suffer an adverse reaction to songs that vociferously seek to improve my mood, the unashamedly feel-good timbre of this record could have rubbed me up the wrong way (“We wanted to make a sunshine pop record,” Pryce is quoted as saying in the press release. “Happy vibes, get people smiling and dancing.”). However, Season Sun made one of the most positive first impressions on me of any new album in a while, genuinely lifting my spirits with its mixture of crisp synth sounds, feathery vocals and a cosy, analogue warmth. The lyrics, while initially seeming simplistic, are purposefully stripped back, suggestive of a philosophy or a road to enjoyment that involves being mindful and deriving more value from the simple pleasures – a refreshing change from the usual facile order to slap a smile on your face (or Pharrell’s numbskull rallying cry of “Happyyyy”, which puts me in mind of a desperate parent’s attempt to trick a crying toddler into thinking it is having fun. Sorry, but I did try to warn you I’m a miserable bastard).
Of course, it takes real skill to appear effortless, and – as befits the musical pedigree of the project, which also includes guitarist Gid Goundrey and former Race Horses drummer Gwion Llewelyn – repeated listens reveal lots going on under the breezy surface of this album. The meaty rhythm section keeps things tethered to reality, and a range of styles and influences come creeping out of the woodwork, from garage rock to psychedelic folk to the techno pop that ran through the SFA’s output. From the celestial lightness of disco-inflected opener, ‘Game Love’, emerges a rhythmically hypnotic flow; ‘Let’s Grow’ – an ode to the straightforward beauty and nourishment to be found in watching things grow – brings in a sunny indie sound with a Beach Boys lilt and playful synth twirls. ‘Vast Space’ has an industrial, glam air, pairing an insistent and expansive chugging beat with the most ephemeral of vocals to widen horizons. The tracks that seem the simplest, like ‘Clean And Serene’, often build into a swelling wave of energy. By the time the almost-title track ‘Seasoned Sun’ comes around, followed by ‘Play’, the melodies have become catchier, the guitars twangier and some variation in vocal tone shows off Leven’s talent to a fuller degree. There is at times a Scandinavian feel about this music, in its wide-eyed-yet-coolly relaxed tone, and the failsafe allure of a Welsh lilt is a bonus which reinforces this vague sense of almost-exoticism. On the evocative ‘Hot Water’, country guitar melts into trip-hop ambience; male/female voices alternate to lullaby effect in ‘Everything’. Lest we get too hippy-dippy, closing track ‘I Want To Dance’ brings a wink and a smile; it comes over like a slowed down Euro-pop number, its charmingly cheesy soaring chorus (complete with refrain of “Ok, let’s dance!”) fit to soundtrack a package holiday montage in a nostalgically loved film or TV series, before winding out on a retro sci-fi synth trip and dropping the listener off back into their everyday life in a refreshed frame of mind.
The sense of enjoyment and freedom that characterised SFA’s music is everywhere here, but in an unexpectedly subtle tenor – less hedonistically charged, but no less geared toward pleasure. It sounds like Guto is living the good life. While I can’t predict how many of these individual songs will prove strong enough to stay with me forever, the overall atmosphere of the album is one I am sure I will find myself wanting – or even needing – to dip back into time and again.