In which Grumbling Fur complete their transformation into a cosmic/bucolic post-synth-pop duo, with an album on which every track promises to be a song-centric, intimate, sway-dance reverie, seducing the listener into deeper engagements.
They’ve come a long way from 2011 debut Furrier, which was a folk-prog, full-band effort by a sextet including David J. Smith, now departed, of Guapo and latterly The Stargazer’s Assistant.
That group was trimmed to the core duo of Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan for 2013 follow-up Glynnaestra, which I praised for its marriage of “hooky appeal and abstruse quiddity” (yeah, I know, but I stand by it) – an album that included a couple of tracks clearly influenced by early Depeche Mode. It was these, rather than the album’s more exploratory instrumental tracks, which became the blueprint for 2014’s Preternaturals.
After a detour into their Grumbling Fur Time Machine Orchestra collaborations with Charlemagne Palestine, Furfour (Thrill Jockey) emerged from three years of writing and recording at 147 Tower Gardens, the home of late Coil affiliate/artist and inspiration Ian Johnstone, where the duo lived, and where O’Sullivan also worked with Massimo Pupillo (Zu), on the recent Laniakea album A Pot of Powdered Nettles.
It’s the Furry duo’s logical next step – an album reconciling the project’s now intrinsically hooky, breezy and accessible pop instincts with shades of the old gnostic progressive sound.
Lead cut “Strange the Friends” has lots of acoustic filigree, notably thanks to This Heat’s Charles Bullen, who guests on guitar and autoharp-like bulbul tarang. “Heavy Days” is distinctly pop-centric Eno- and Frippertronic-influenced – an acknowledged “nod to Another Green World” – with violinist Daniel Piorio in Fripp’s role augmented by viola da gamba courtesy of Liam Byrne.
Piorio and Byrne also feature on two furthher cuts, the elegiac, pulsing “Silent Plans”, and the pulse-driven groove number “Golden Simon”, which incorporates a rich instrumental passage with Bardo Pond’s Isobel Sollenberger on flute.
Of the purely instrumental cuts, “Come Down and Watch Them” is relatively downbeat, and “Pyewacket’s Palace” is an atmospheric stargazing interlude, soundtracking natural phenomena from an astral remove. The jaunty, entrancing and uplifting bedroom pop songs that surround the latter are more typical.
The album is toploaded with its most direct pieces – numbers like “Acid Ali Khan”, with its firm beats and pacific club vibes (acid primarily as trace beat nostalgia), and the instrumental “Molten Familiar” with layered, retro key synth melodies over bustling kit percussion.
Further variation comes with sampled spoken word extracts – these feature on “Black Egg”, the dark ambient coda affixed to “Silent Plans”, and as the focus of the otherwise dreamy “Sapien Sapiens”.
The final, seven minute, steadily thrumming “Suneaters” synthesises all the album’s variety into song and simple, insistent, string-scoured throbbing.
Tucker and O’Sullivan seem made for each other, striking a near-perfect balance between hooky accessibility, emotional depth and subtly blended instrumental textures. Furfour opens a window – a new, uncluttered perspective on some pretty hoary musical traditions (though that might not occur to unreflective listeners) – and it hits like fresh air.
Buy Furfour direct from Thrill Jockey.