Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I'm Late To The Party With This Marvelous Cian Ciaran (SFA) Album: A Look At They Are Nothing Without Us

When he's not playing keyboards for Super Furry Animals, or helping to run Strangetown Records and putting out great albums by band-mates Daf (the wicked record from The Earth) or Bunf (the equally wicked album from The Pale Blue Dots), Cian Ciaran puts out fantastic music of his own. Back in January, I brought you one tune of his but now I'm here to give you the lowdown on his awesome 2013 record They Are Nothing Without Us.

Somewhere in the promotional material for this record was buried the nugget that keyboard wiz Cian Ciaran taught himself how to play guitar for this release. And while that tidbit might make you listen to this album with one eye -- or ear, really -- turned to that unique angle, it's best to approach this record as another indication of how much the best songs of Super Furry Animals owe to this guy.

You know, when Lennon and McCartney went solo listeners could hear the separate styles of the respective composers and imagine piecing them up together again to reproduce the sound of The Beatles. And that's to say nothing of George Harrison and his unique part of the Beatles sound. Or Ringo, for that matter.

But the cool thing about the Super Furry Animals -- and something that I really, really noticed when listening to Cian Ciaran's They Are Nothing Without Us -- is how much each of these records from Daf, Bunf, Cian, or Guto and his Gulp sounds like Super Furry Animals. No mean feat, that. Unlike that feeling of listening to "Listen to What the Man Said", or "Instant Karma", and thinking that for all the song's glory it still only sounded like a quarter of the Fab Four, here and on those other SFA spin-off records a listener is rewarded with the same sort of pop thrills that he or she first received when spinning Fuzzy Logic in 1996 or Radiator in 1997.

Which is a long way of saying that this sounds enough like the Super Furry Animals' best stuff to please any SFA fan.

Doubt me? Spin the sublime "Shape Control" and see if you agree. What starts as a Sixties-style trippy jam, morphs into a direct riff rocker that would have sounded perfectly at home on any SFA release from 1996 until 2001. And all that happens in the space of about 2 minutes.

A hint of The Beach Boys, not The Beatles, creeps through "No More" and a listener recalls the beautiful chord changes in something like "Demons" from earlier in Cian's band's life.

There are SFA-style, space-y near-doo wop backing vocals to buoy up the surging "Sewn Up" which thrills in a way that suggests America's own late, lamented Guided By Voices.

And then unexpectedly there arises the early Sabbath vibe of "43,000,000".

"Bee My Baby" and "Sleepless Nights" take things in a mellow direction -- think High Llamas covering Neil Young -- and then the rising chords of instrumental "Silver Sea" charm again with hints of an older classic like "Dim Brys: Dim Chwys".

The sublime "Pachamama", named after an Andean fertility goddess, showcases the strengths of Cian Ciaran as a solo performer. Yes, there are bits here in this one that sound like Super Furry Animals but there's also so much more. As the guitar lines unfurl, part nearly-blues-y and part nearly Fripp-like, the keyboard figures overlap and the song turns into an affecting, subtly ambient track with vocals.

They Are Nothing Without Us from Cian Ciaran is out now on Strangetown Records. I have no freakin' idea how I missed out on this one until now, especially considering that I already blogged about another Cian Ciaran release back at the start of this year.