Grumbling Fur started out as the duo of Alexander Tucker and bassist Jussi Lehtisalo, of Finnish psych rock stalwarts Circle, but expanded to a sextet for debut album, Furrier (2011, Aurora Borealis), which also involved Guapo’s Dave Smith. In this reconfigured lineup, Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan draw the project away from its initial psych-folk leanings, albeit there’s continuity with the gnostic darkness at the core of the group’s shamanistic avant-pop.
Tucker is a veteran of the UK experimental underground. He sometimes collaborates with Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley, but he’s mostly known as a solo artist, spinning doomy drone loops and Faheyesque guitar ragas. O’Sullivan is an inveterate collaborator, who habitually glosses the commerciality of established groups; certainly he did that for Guapo, and he seemed a natural fit with the arthouse evolution of Ulver. His own group, Mothlite, is pure gothpop, but he also plays improv (live keyboards and tape manipulations) in Æthenor, alongside Tucker’s pal O’Malley.
More significantly, O’Sullivan helped make Tucker’s most recent albums, Dorwytch (2011) and Third Mouth (2012) his most successful so far, and his synth and viola enhance Tucker’s psychedelic sublimity just as beautifully in Grumbling Fur.
Thrill Jockey’s press notes rightly suggest that the new album channels “a tradition of subterranean Englishness” and “electro-gnosis”, forging associative connections to Coil and This Heat; they also inform us that Glynnaestra is “an archaic goddess divined by Tucker and O’Sullivan (who) presides over the record”. Under her aegis, they’ve delivered an accessibly eclectic collection.
The first track, “Ascatudaea”, marries dark incantation to surging synth riff. It’s sadly little more than a fragment, introducing “Protogenesis”, which updates the 70s folk-melodic electronic/orchestral synth pop of Vangelis. “Eyoreseye” continues the theme, infusing beats that carry the grain of the post-Kraftwerk era.
“The Ballad of Roy Batty” namechecks the Vangelis-scored Blade Runner‘s premier replicant, and sets his “Tears in Rain” soliloquy as lyrics to the first of two slow-mo anthems – “Dancing Light” being its relatively upbeat partner. These tracks clearly evoke Depeche Mode, not least via beautifully copacetic vocal harmonies. Their rhythms are strangely off-kilter, but levelled by guitar and string sustains.
Much of the album’s instant appeal rests on the strength of these songs and the later “Clear Path”, which evokes the folksy harmonies of medievally-influenced classic progressive rock with affecting simplicity.
The album becomes more abstract as it goes on. The instrumental “Alapana Blaze” makes an unexpected detour into Tom Waits territory, all offbeat percussion and muzzy electric guitar. “Cream Pool” is an obfusc organ interlude; “Galacticon” an idiosyncratic half-song that glides along bass synth grooves. The title track a dolorous blend of wordless vocals, cello and guitar.
Of the last three tracks, “The Hound” is a foley interlude for what sounds like a kettle, a wind machine and processed objects; “Harpies” is a tight, urgent instrumental mesh, incorporating synth whorls and harp; and “His Moody Face” is a torpid 7 minutes of synaptic drift and unsettling abstract sound.
An immensely appealing album, Glynnaestra blends hooky appeal and abstruse quiddity. I’ll be gifting it come Christmas, no doubt.
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