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SUPER FURRY ANIMALS "Love Kraft" XL SUPER FURRY ANIMALS "Songbook -- The Singles Vol. 1" XL CARIBOU "The Milk of Human Kindness" Domino

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Friday, November 4, 2005

SUPER FURRY ANIMALS"Love Kraft"XLSUPER FURRY ANIMALS"Songbook -- The Singles Vol. 1"XLCARIBOU"The Milk of Human Kindness"Domino

Among leery Anglophones, Super Furry Animals are probably best known for sometimes singing in Welsh. Yet the Cardiff quintet's response to the dominance of English-language culture has not been to stress its Welshness, but to be as eclectic and international as possible. Thus "Love Kraft," the band's seventh studio recording, was recorded in Spain and mixed in Brazil.

It's the group's lushest album to date, with string and horn arrangements by High Llama Sean O'Hagan. Such standouts as "Atomik Lust" and "Lazer Beam" draw on late-'60s psychedelic soul, as well as on the band's usual rock, lounge, electronic and California-pop influences.

Unfortunately, the intricate settings and luxuriant sonics sometimes upstage the material. Principal singer-lyricist Gruff Rhys yields the soapbox to his bandmates on several of these songs, with mixed results. Rhys's playfully allusive lyrics, which often address political and ecological issues, sit next to routine stuff about young love and life on the road. The music, however, is more dependable. This is not the group's most profound set, but its melodies and harmonies are layered deeply.

Even if "Love Kraft" were Super Furry Animals' best album, it couldn't compete with "Songbook -- The Singles Vol. 1," the recent compilation of 21 songs that were released on singles or EPs in Britain. The diverse selection ranges from such punchy ravers as "God! Show Me Magic" to such intricate suites as the gorgeous "Ice Hockey Hair," and from the straightforward pop-punk of "Do or Die" to a sample-driven classic with an unprintable title. Sparkling choruses and "Pet Sounds"-inspired harmonies abound, and, yes, one of the catchiest songs, "Ysbeidiau Heulog" ("Sunny Intervals"), is in Welsh. Yet there's nothing provincial about this assortment, which shows one of the world's most inventive contemporary pop groups at its multifarious best.

Being a one-man, largely electronic act, Caribou comes at his music from the opposite direction as Super Furry Animals. Yet with the release of their latest albums, the two have found themselves in similar places. A London-based Canadian who previously recorded under the name Manitoba -- before legal hassles with Dictators frontman Handsome Dick Manitoba -- Caribou jumbles samples and beats with guitars and vocals on his third album, "The Milk of Human Kindness." The compositions span abstract techno and warm folkie-rock, sometimes during the same track. The carillon keyboards of "Pelican Narrows" lead to the German-style "motorik" beat of "Barnowl" -- he must like birds -- and "A Final Warning" moves from organic burblings to a mechanical throb that becomes a sort of chant.

Such moments rarely cohere into songs, but they're dynamic nonetheless.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Tuesday at the 9:30 club.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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