Monday, March 16, 2015

Cian Ciaran's Back With Zefur Wolves: My Early Review Of The Debut Album

If I told you that the new band Zefur Wolves was a project of Super Furry Animals keyboardist Cian Ciaran and his partner Estelle Ios, you'd rightly think that the results would be some kind of space-y Welsh version of Sonny and Cher. And while I'd almost love for that to be true, the reality is that the music of Zefur Wolves is both wonderfully familiar and wholly new. Carried aloft by the expressive vocals of Ios, the tracks here are sleek, heartfelt, and expansive. Super Furry Animals fans should find a lot to love here but folks who've never heard of those SFA cats can also dig this album in a big, big way.

Let's discuss the 13 tracks here on Zefur Wolves.

"Fading Out" opens things with some keyboard figures that would not have been out of place on a recent Furries record and then "Sin Fronteras" rides a mean, late Pixies hook into the heart of darkness. Part blues rock, and part Neil Young-inspired riffer, the tune is a blast and a pleasant surprise on a record I grabbed due mainly to the SFA connection.

"Accept What You Feel" recalls something like "God! Show Me Magic" if that classic had been penned by Primal Scream in their Evil Heat era, while "Let Us Be" channels a hard guitar figure that recalls Th' Faith Healers if they had more of a sense of pop-craft.

"Troubled Soul" showcases the sultry vocals of Estelle Ios to glorious effect. A slow-burn of a number, the track is poised somewhere between The Pretenders and Mazzy Star but it remains a good example of what this band is capable of already. Unlike a few other tracks on this record, there's very little in "Troubled Soul" to suggest any SFA connection and, for that reason, I am confident that Zefur Wolves will appeal to more than just Furries fans like me.

"Santi's Eclipse" and "Alhambra" are space-y rockers with one foot in the blues world...but just barely. "Your Days are Numbered" has a fantastic guitar hook that recalls the punk-y side of early Super Furry Animals recordings. This one rocks!

If "Wake Up sounds like the Kim Deal-fronted Breeders at their peak, "Too Late" is all languid slide guitar figures and smoky vocals from Estelle Ios. Equal parts Kendra Smith of Opal and Hope Sandoval, what Estelle Ios delivers here is fresh and enticing music.

"Native" opens things up with a great drum pattern while the album closes with the like-minded "Secret Song" and "This One's For You", both expansive and slow-building tunes.

Cian Ciaran, Estelle Ios, Danny Wall, Zirian Tahirili, and Trystan Palfrey have crafted something remarkably cool here. Despite the presence of Super Furry Animals keyboard wizard Cian Ciaran, the debut from Zefur Wolves is largely a success thanks to the vocals of Estelle Ios. Channeling influences as seemingly disparate of Chrissie Hynde and Juliana Hatfield, she's put her pipes in the service of some seriously intoxicating tunes. When they stick to up-tempo tunes, Zefur Wolves have just enough SFA-like bits to make any fan of that band take notice. When they change up the style a bit, Zefur Wolves seem to be doing a new sort of music here. While there are some stylistic similarities here to the last few SFA records, Zefur Wolves seems, oddly, like a very American sort of record. Fans of Calexico, Mazzy Star, and even Grandaddy, will probably love this record a lot.

As it is, Zefur Wolves are a Welsh band that would probably hate to be labelled as just a Welsh band, despite the connection with some real Welsh legends. With this release on his own Strangetown Records label, Furry keyboard ace Cian Ciaran has made a remarkably organic sounding record so as to bridge the legacy of the Super Furry Animals and the electronic bits he's more famous for with something else entirely. Zefur Wolves works best in the parts that sound nothing at all like the Furries...and I say that as an enormous fan of those cats.

Follow Zefur Wolves on their official Facebook page, or via the official Strangetown Records Facebook page.