What do the rest of the Super Furry Animals do while Gruff Rhys is off on one of his many different tangents? While Rhys moves between film-making, releasing records under his own name and his work with Neon Neon, the other four Super Furries have been pretty quiet since 2009’s Dark Days/Light Years.
Thankfully for anyone with a Welsh psychedelic-shaped hole in their lives, SFA’s Cian Ciaran has arrived with a new solo album, the second release under his own name. A clear contrast to last year’s Outside In, They Are Nothing Without Us is a spiky, angry album, with shades of sweetness sewn throughout to make the whole thing more palatable.
It’s surprisingly that Ciaran is the Super Furry to have created something that nods so clearly to the day job, as he was always the band member that seemed to dabble at the more experimental edges of their sound – his techno deconstructions of ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ have long tested the ears of fragile indie fans at the climax of the band’s shows. However, listening to the gentle glide of ‘Sleepless Nights’ or the swooning swagger of ‘No More’ shows that Ciaran shares that love of a beautiful melody that has marked Rhys’ career so far.
‘No More’ is probably the highlight of the record, four minutes of blissful California sunshine followed by a minimalist piano coda. It also underlines one important point that ties all of They Are Nothing Without Us together – while musically it verges between aggression and bliss, lyrically Ciaran is constantly in a pretty angry place. "There’s few of you and many like me/You’ve fucked it up it’s plain to see/And I can’t take no more” is the key refrain of the track, while ‘Sleepless Nights’ hectors at those in power who are unable to sleep soundly.
While those tracks sugar-coat the angry lyrics, the album’s opening trio are much more forceful off the bat. ‘5c Cotton 40c Beef’ wields a hypotic riff above a driving rhythm as Ciaran urges people to stand up and take action, while ’43,000’ uses a fantastic Sabbath-esque mechanical piledriver to drive a particular point home. The following ‘Sewn Up’ is probably the most Super Furries style thing here, Ciaran’s rich Welsh vocals proclaiming that he “hopes you choke on your profits” over the top of some chugging guitars and swooping backing vocals.
This first half of the album is definitely more immediate than what follows, but that’s not to say that Side B isn’t worth exploring. ‘Down River’ is as in-your-face as anything else here, while ‘Silver Sea’ could have arrived straight from SFA’s classic OutSpaced rarities compilation, all blissed-out guitars and slowly driving rhythms. Closing ‘Pachamama’ lands just the right side of epic, opting for the slowly unwinding psychelic finish rather than overblown bombast.
All together, it adds up to something that flies in the face of any received wisdom about side-projects from the guys in the background, and shows that Ciaran can stand on his own as a songwriter and performer. As the Super Furries continue to be ‘on hiatus’ for the foreseeable, this should definitely satisfy any fans suffering from serious withdrawal symptoms.
7Aaron Lavery's Score