Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Few Kind Words About Rise Of The Super Furry Animals By Ric Rawlins

I'm here to raise a glass to author Ric Rawlins for writing the definitive Super Furry Animals bio that the world never knew it needed. Rise of the Super Furry Animals is a concise, eminently readable, and always fun crash-course in the genius of these Welsh geniuses. It distills what makes them tick, or what made them tick so well for so long, with such ease that I was almost sorry to finish the book.

The title, out now via The Friday Project, breezes through the life of this group in a style that is sure to please fans of this band as well as those who haven't been listening to them for 20 years.

Opening with a hysterical account of the band inside their runaway tank as it careens towards a folk festival, Rise of The Super Furry Animals then shifts to the formation of the group along with a little bit of background on each member of the band.

As the book gains momentum, the narrative becomes the actual joyous account of the band's success promised in the title. Without getting bogged down in the old Britpop story, the book manages to hit on a few truths about that era without trying too hard to do it. One key quote, from the section on the making of 1997's fantastic Radiator, leapt out at me:

"The Furries had noticed a recent trend for bleak-sounding indie bands complaining about their rock-star existences, and they wanted no part of it. Here were five close friends, signed to a great label, recording an album at a time of unprecedented popularity for independent bands; to moan about it would have seemed outrageous."

And that seems to get at why I so love this band and why this quote from this book so expertly captures their appeal. It's not that I don't like Radiohead -- and Rawlins is probably referring a bit to the band in that passage, especially as it coincides with the OK Computer record -- but there doesn't have to be so much work in making music that pushes the form forward.

Rise of The Super Furry Animals takes that angle and opens a window on how these records were made without being boring about it. Never once descending into muso worship of these rock gods, Rawlins instead offers peaks at the practical aspects of making a record the SFA-way.

My first trip to the U.K. was designed around a series of concerts in April 1999, the last of which was Super Furry Animals and Clinic in Wolverhampton. My best friend and I stayed at an oddly shaped, and decrepit, hotel in the heart of the city. It was drab and dire but we were only in town to see the Furries again, having seen them in D.C. already the year or so before. The concert was spectacular as the band were trotting out songs from the upcoming Guerrilla. I think I had grabbed a promo of "Northern Lites" from some shop in Camden already so it was a blast seeing the band on the cusp of further Furry greatness.

What's so remarkable even now is how great that concert sounded. As we stumbled out of the venue to get kebabs on the street from some vendor, my friend kept babbling about the sound system in the gig. Maybe it was the beers talking, as they say, but in his ravings there was some truth about what the band were doing. And now, having read in Rise of The Super Furry Animals about the band's experiments with sound systems via keyboardist Cian Ciaran, it makes more sense to me in retrospect how great that show sounded. It wasn't a fluke of the hall; it was the result of some tinkering on the part of these Welsh wizards.

It is those sorts of details on the recording process of this act, along with all the fun bits, that make Rise of The Super Furry Animals such a joy to read. The book manages to cover a lot of territory and those of us who became fans of this band in 1996 to 1998 will be rewarded when reading these pages. They serve to offer up some gentle nostalgia of the era while simultaneously making the strong case that this band was far, far better than any of their peers in that era; there's a reason that Rawlins rarely mentions any other contemporaries of SFA from those days.

I owe another enormous "Thank you!" to Cicely Aspinall at the The Friday Project for getting me a copy of this book. The last time I was thanking her it was in relation to the new book/CD endeavor from another of my favorite bands.

Rise of The Super Furry Animals by Ric Rawlins is out now. The book is a pleasure to read and an example of exactly how to write about a bunch of pop geniuses. While I may disagree with a few choices on Rawlins' "SFA Mixtape" in the back of the book, I can say that I have played "Demons" and "The Turning Tide" more this week than I have in months. Even though the Furries are busy with individual projects -- click those tags at the edge of this post -- this weekend's concert activities in the U.K. and the events described in this book make a strong case for them being at their best when they are together.