In a new series for 2019 Wales Arts Review will be asking what are the greatest albums ever produced by Welsh musical artists? A wide selection of writers will be examining their favourites, and here Gray Taylor picks the second solo album from Super Furry Animal Cian Ciaran, They Are Nothing Without Us from 2013.
It must be alternatively wonderful and frustrating being in a band where ever member is amazingly talented. (I guess this never gave Travis sleepless nights). This communal genius must be especially frustrating when you are not necessarily considered the front man by the public and critics alike. In a fickle world where people need to focus their attentions on a sparse amount of information, waving desperately from behind a drum kit must suck a bit. Super Furry Animals are one such band where every member is a master music maker, songwriter and performer. Their albums are a consistently brilliant lesson in how wonderful musicians work together to create brilliance.
Their solo and side projects are never less than interesting and usually great; projects such as The Earth, The Peth, Acid Casuals, Neon Neon and Gruff Rhys’s tremendous solo albums. I suppose it is natural, with the two dimensional nature of the music press, that Gruff as the lead singer on much of the Furry’s greatest hits should get a large amount of attention. But, this is a massive misconception; don’t forget that on the album Love Kraft every member took the lead vocal on at least one track. However, Cian Ciaran’s second album under his own name should readdress the balance as soon as anybody drops a needle on it.
The album begins with the exhilarating one-two punch of ‘5c Cotton 90c Beef’ and ‘93,000,000’. We are already a million miles away from Cian Ciaran’s previous album, Outside In, which favoured Dennis Wilson style ballads. They Are Nothing Without Us has been called Cian Ciaran’s protest album in some circles, but I fear that might put people off listening to the music within. There is so much to enjoy here that it is difficult to fit the best moments into one piece of writing. ‘Sewn Up’ is classic slice of Furries pop and could have effortlessly sat on Fuzzy Logic; ‘1/7/89’ reminds us of The Cure at their very best, with a lovely, wistful indie spiral of a vocal; ‘Sleepless Nights’ is beautiful but with its sarcastic, biting lyric revealing the singer’s pissed off intentions. For my money, ‘No More’ is one the best tracks, a slow meditation of pure classic songwriting that could be re-imagined in any form and it would still be a great song. With added vocals by Vanity Johnson, it is an uplifting, downbeat track (if that makes any sense!).
The second half of the album is just as great, if a bit more introspective, with Cian’s vocals sometimes part of the ambience, sometimes exploding into chorus like on ‘Shape Control’. It is very easy to hear where a lot of those classic Super Furry harmonies originate from listening to this album. It is also worth noting that this is mostly the sound of one man. (Truly a one man bloody band – talented sod!)
‘Peaked’ is an epic soundscape that ends in electronics reminiscent of Super Furry Animals’ masterpiece ‘Slow Life’. The last few tracks might initially feel slightly unfinished, but on repeated listens they reveal themselves as a mini musical concept, soaring and epic, in turns Tangerine Dream, Josef K, Sonic Youth, T. Rex, and late 60s’ Pink Floyd. In other words: magic.
Super Furry Animals have taken a hiatus from being Super Furry Animals. Of course, this is a travesty for us listeners, but we need not feel abandoned. Cian Ciaran is flying the flag, creating classic music, protesting and fighting the good fight, humble but truly, truly great. With this album, and Gruff’s Hotel Shampoo, you not only have the best solo work of a Furry Animal, but also a musical and sociological statement of real longevity; and one of the best albums of this decade so far. Forget about perceived wisdom, bands can contain multiple front men, multiple talent that requires us to invest time in. Do yourself a favour and get it in your life, without it you are not exactly nothing but your life is lacking.