Since 2011, Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan have been working together as experimental electronic duo Grumbling Fur. They’ve also delved into numerous other areas of work over the years, including collaborations with Ulver, Sunn O))) and This Heat as well as solo releases and even comics. They have also become a favourite support act of The Charlatans, where Tim Burgess has been known to join them on stage during their set. So you could say they’ve both been a little busy, which is exactly how their output sounds.
Most recent collection Preternaturals from 2014 was a “dense, intelligent and rewarding album” and Furfour carries on this trait, albeit with the addition of “kindred spirits” Charles Bullen (This Heat) and Isobel Sollenberger (Bardo Pond). Regardless of contributors, the ethos of forming tracks from sounds and ideas continues: “songs are about including the process in the finished piece and spontaneous ideas are laid down and a structure starts to emerge from this source”, they claim. This isn’t music for Neanderthals, that’s for sure.
As anyone who has been to a Grumbling Fur show will know, the duo create a woven soundscape of electronica, drumbeats, loops and samples whilst also grappling with ‘proper’ instruments so there’s plenty going on. And the same can be said of Furfour, their fourth album, where repeated listens reveal multiple layers of laid over bits and pieces that take a considerable amount of time for the human brain to unravel. With this in mind, it’s difficult to get bored.
Recorded over three years, Furfour begins its journey with Strange The Friends where it takes a while to appreciate each musical layer. Trying to deconstruct such a complex arrangement isn’t for wimps so best left appreciated rather than analysed, but it’s utterly compelling, sounding like the afterbirth of latter parts of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells in places (ie not the bit pinched for The Exorcist), with the joint harmonised vocals strangely melding in a way that recalls Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan. The bubbly, upbeat Acid Ali Khan is intriguing in its titling let alone its content, where the electronica takes on a disco appearance – you could even dance to this if you were that way inclined – and the poppy Perfect Reader is a psychedelic swirling tune that also leans towards catchiness.
Because there’s so much activity within these tracks, it’s not always easy to pick out a strong melody, if you can find one at all after your ears have attempted to deconstruct the layers. Heavy Days probably possesses the album’s most memorable melody, preceded by a short piano burst for its intro; it’s a classic example of how the band work, where the vocal melodies weave around a short, punchy loop.
A certain level of intelligence is probably required to relate to much of the material here. Genetic engineering has probably not been addressed directly since Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark released their 1983 single, but listen carefully to the female voiced Sapien Sapiens and if you’re a boffin looking for a scientific insight into the subject then you’ll come away happy; the rest of us might struggle a little to grasp what the hell they’re talking about, and what point they’re trying to make.
Three of the 12 tracks are instrumentals. Firstly, Molten Familiar employs a number of different electronic effects to play out a spy thriller type movie cut and then Pyewacket’s Palace creates a beautifully serene soundscape that washes over you like a lapping tide. After some more samples, Come Down And Watch Them then swoons along in Australian outback fashion; it’s difficult to believe that this hasn’t been lifted directly from a Crocodile Dundee soundtrack.
Furfour is not an album that will change the world. Tracks come and go leaving only occasional ear worming melodies and are largely bereft of sing along moments. It is, however, quite possibly the most interesting listen you’re likely to get all year as each play will reveal something you didn’t catch before and for that reason alone, it’s one that needs to be heard over and over.