According to Grumbling Fur duo Alexander Tucker and Daniel O’Sullivan their albums are reflective of the time and place in which they were made. In this case, the pair wrote and recorded in a house owned by artist Ian Johnstone. Situated in Tottenham, the grounds provided a kind of rural retreat from the surrounding suburbia thanks to its woodland garden, whilst the occult art dangling on the walls added to the inspiration for these songs.
These influences are in evidence across the album, not least in its title. The term preternatural refers to something that exists outside of nature, or something that cannot be explained by ordinary means. As such, Grumbling Fur have written an album that embraces not only the natural world, but the spiritual aspects of life too, and to a degree, the nature of suburban life.
Such lofty concepts are of course not worth a jot if the songs are not there to support them. Fortunately Grumbling Fur have turned in a series of songs that might just register as their most “pop” informed songs to date. All The Rays launches straight into a ridiculously catchy pop chorus. Opening a song with its strongest moment is brave gambit because there’s often nowhere to go from there, but Grumbling Fur have plenty of hooks and vocal melodies in store and keep it rolling from start to finish, surfing across vocal hooks with an assured swagger. The quaint electropop of Lightinsisters is haunting and languid, seemingly populated with phantoms.
Feet Of Clay meanwhile channels Tucker’s folk past beautifully and marries it to notions of psychic phenomena. The line “as you’re leafing through the pages of the book, all the armies of the undead appear in your voice” is delivered in such a delicate manner that at first, it’s hard to pick out that something strange is happening in the lyrics. Lists of otherworldly occurrences form a haunted house of a song, with pianos playing themselves, frequent speaking in lounges, and skin creeping off of bones; as it would. Somehow Grumbling Fur make it seem all so natural and comforting.
Mister Skeleton follows a similar path and appears to be about aspects of existence that are temporary, perceived and not-perceived. An appropriately skeletal track is populated with mentions of migrating birds, disappearing butterflies and shapes drawn on mirrors appearing and disappearing under hot breath. There is considerable hidden depth in the musical layers of the song, scratch the surface and the fine detail that can be found is quite astonishing. The effect is akin to wandering around a city centre shortly before daybreak and observing the minute details whilst seeing vague evidence of life as a metropolis slowly re-awakens. Secrets Of The Earth is a curious ambient folk song, it’s barely awake vocal lines and haunting drones combine to provide a dreamy, if not stoned, experience.
The album possesses a few ambient scene setters. Neil Megson Fanclub opens the album, and as might be expected from a track that serves as a tip of the hat to Genesis Breyer P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle, it is an unsettling but playful mixture of clanks, giggling and creaking doors. It’s not the only track to play with sound, White China Pencil’s ambient wash and whispered vocals provide a dreamy interlude at the midpoint, whilst Materials Recording The Fibres Of Time is a haunting snapshot that sets up closing track Pluriforms perfectly.
It’s the closing track that fully embraces the darker side of Preternaturals. With its pulsing bass drones, slightly off-key whistles that sound like some kind of feral tribe is lurking over the horizon, and clattering percussion, it is the sound of inexplicable dread. If the peculiar and spiritual aspects of the album are almost intangible on the lighter poppier songs, here they make themselves known, demanding to be given attention. It’s a breathtaking end to a dense, intelligent and rewarding album.