Seconds
Super Furry Animals – Arnofio/Glô in the Dark



stylus Magazine's Seconds column examines those magic moments that arise when listening to a piece of music that strikes that special chord inside. That pounding drum intro; a clanging guitar built-up to an anthemic chorus; that strange glitchy noise you've never quite been able to figure out; that first kiss or heartbreak; a well-turned rhyme that reminds you of something in your own past so much, it seems like it was written for you—all of those little things that make people love music. Every music lover has a collection of these Seconds in his or her head; these are some of ours.

For Super Furry Animals, singing in English was not a default position—it was a conscious one. Band members had struggled in Welsh language groups for years, most notably Gruff Rhys and Dafydd Ieuan’s Ffa Coffi Pawb (“Everybody’s Coffee Beans” or, if heard in a certain way, “Fuck Off Everybody”) before eventually reaching a decision that being understood by a wider audience was a crucial step to being more widely heard. Legend has it that Creation head Alan McGhee asked them to start singing more songs in English—right after a live set that had been in English.

Like anything, it’s a cost/benefit situation: SFA’s decision was seen in the Welsh media as a betrayal of their roots, but without their success in English, we’d probably wouldn’t be here talking about them bringing their native language to a larger audience. Ultimately, the Furries have had the last laugh: 2000’s Mwng was the most successful Welsh language album ever recorded.

The song, in question here, is “Arnofio.” A Fuzzy Logic-era number from the outtakes collection Out Spaced, it stands out in the group’s oeuvre for being recorded at a time when there was comparatively little sophistication to their sound. Its title phrase translates as “floating” and for 2:22 that’s exactly what it does. Pulsing keyboard backs keening, echoing vocals that drift in and out of focus while guitar is let loose in thick, backwards clouds and various sound effects burble away. As its shorn of a language that I can understand, this section is powerfully alien with Gruff Rhys’ understated and familiar voice turned into something much stranger. There is little to do but let it wash over you, free of any real hook but wonderful all the same.

Then, without so much as a beat’s pause for warning, a shockingly loud and fuzzy guitar part slams in and they plunge straight into brash “Something for the Weekend” territory. The change is abrupt enough that, without memorizing exactly when it comes, there is no chance to brace for it—it retains its effect almost as much on the second listen, or fifth, or hundredth. The jeering words (“Hey swimmers, watch for sharks / They’re gonna get you ‘cos you glow in the dark’) are delivered with a pop-punk glee that sounds all the harsher thanks to the switch to English, and the contrast is enough to give it the illusionary feel of being the heaviest moment of their whole career.

It’s not hard to read this as a metaphor for the overpowering of their language by English rulers, though meanings are rarely this straightforward with the Furries. The song doesn’t finish there—the keening vocals of the first section return with a newly sinister edge and SFA flip between the two songs once again for good measure—but it’s the power of the initial moment of release that still stuns every time.


By: Iain Forrester
Published on: 2006-11-29
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