LISTEN: Grumbling Fur - Preternaturals
, August 8th, 2014 19:59
It is nigh! Unsettle your furmament with The Quietus Phonographic Corporation's second release
This Monday, August 11th we're releasing the second record birthed by The Quietus Phonographic Corporation, Grumbling Fur's brilliant third album PRETERNATURALS. You can listen to the record via Soundcloud above, and have a read of what a bunch of our colleagues across the music press have been saying about it below, along with the full biog of how this marvellous record came to be made. Grumbling Fur will be playing Corsica Studios on August 12th, with a furgasmic boosted line-up involving string players from the London Sinfonietta and Tim Burgess on vocals - Tim will also be supporting on the night. Tickets are here.
"Deeply odd, yet held together by great pop tunes, Preternaturals is as fascinatingly unnerving as it is pleasingly listenable" The Times; "Transportive pop chants" - Mojo; "Old school British psychedelia... rituals behind the privet hedge" - Q; "Odd, bewitching pop" - Uncut; "They soon make good on their pop pledge... the tunes haunt the mind long after they've faded" - NME; "There'd be browned pants galore, should any of the current delay-pedal toting garage rock crop masquerading as 'psychedelic' delve as deeply into the mind's eye as Grumbling Fur" - The Skinny; "If the future is bright, then the future must also be furry" - DrownedInSound; "big on melody... a taste for mind-expansion and sensory overload" The Line Of Best Fit; "As though we've crash landed in the middle of an alternate dimension" - the405.
After The Quietus declared Grumbling Fur's Glynnaestra (Thrill Jockey) to be their favourite album of 2013, the duo of Daniel O'Sullivan and Alexander Tucker approached the label with a view to putting out some music. "We'd talked about doing a limited edition series of abstract 12"s that would see artists releasing work away from what they'd normally do," says Quietus co-editor Luke Turner. "The idea was that Grumbling Furmight do one of these. We were pretty surprised, and more than chuffed, when they came to us with this really gorgeous pop album." Quietus editor John Doran adds, "Grumbling Fur are like a pair of cinematic mad scientists who have finally managed to combine two of the greatest things known to humanity - mind-expanding psychedelia and pure, life-affirming pop music."
Grumbling Fur met when O'Sullivan was 17 and Tucker 21 through a shared passion for hardcore and metal, although their listening stretched outward to experimental music, jazz and post-rock. Early musical endeavours together with other members of the hardcore scene included a band called Antarctica, though Tucker claims he was "too inept" for it to work, and that he and O'Sullivan were already pulling in more esoteric directions where "the others were anchored to the riff". After time apart - with O'Sullivan working in various ensembles including Mothlite, Guapo, Miasma & The Carousel Of Headless Horses, Ulver, Æthenor and songwriting for The Big Pink while Tucker focused on series of excellent and undervalued solo albums - they reconnected on an Æthenor tour. An early Grumbling Fur live performance took place on a balmy summer evening in Stoke Newington's ancient St Mary's Church, and the duo released their debut album Furrier in 2011.
Preternaturals, a sequence of nine glowing pop songs and abstract interludes recorded between January and April 2014, expands further upon the duo's intrinsic love of exploration in sound, sensation and audio magick. At a time when the term psychedelic is much abused by retro-rockist chancers, it feels particularly precious - a record crafted with generosity, intended to help tuned-in listeners achieve and perceive things out of the ordinary. "Dan and I want to catch glimpses of that, to catch glimpses of the other side," reflects Tucker. "To see the ground. As with any psychedelic music, it’s transportative. It’s quite healing really, just flying down tunnels of awesomeness and imagery and just letting go."
With rhythms that clack and clatter like windmills blown by interplanetary solar winds, these are tunes for a milkman to whistle as he steps down from his hoverfloat with a pint of something glowing, in a time and place unspecified and unknown. Their influences include the consumption of psychotropics, Spacemen 3, Faust, Ram-era Paul McCartney, dub, New Zealand musician Alastair Galbraith, reading Philip K Dick, and the Preternaturals idea of "fear that human beings are outside of nature... everything can be elucidated by nature but that we don’t have access to that".
"This is our pop record, but really every record for us is the same, it’s about encapsulating the time during which it was made," says Tucker. It's about the place where it was made, too, at that point where Tottenham starts to become the suburbs, in a 1930s house owned by the artist Ian Johnstone. With a dense woodland garden planted with healing perennials and walls hung with art by visionary occult painter and illustrator Austin Osman Spare, O'Sullivan describes the house as "an island - it's difficult for me to leave once I'm there. It belongs to Ian, who has always been on the look out for me. The house is imbued with magickal energy. Its walls and the contents within are the materials which record the fibres of time."
Another artist who has fallen under the spell of the North London house is Tim Burgess, Charlatans singer, coffee importer and solo musician in his own right. "No one realises this about Tim yet, but he's the Damo Suzuki of Manchester," says Tucker. "He's really good at improvising and getting a vibe." After discovering Glynnaestra via The Quietus' 2013 chart, Burgess played 'The Ballad Of Roy Batty' on 6Music and kept tweeting of his love for the band. He confesses now that his tweets "were like flares I was firing into the sky, saying I wanted to work with the band". Burgess drove down from the Charlatans studio to "Grumble Land,Fur Island", and the trio instantly clicked, which Tucker says was because everyone was out of their comfort zone. "He had a civilising effect on us," adds O'Sullivan. The result was 'Lightinsisters', a track that became a tribute to both O'Sullivan and Tucker's house and the building in Seven Sisters where Burgess had been living until it was demolished. "It struck me that it was about change," Burgess says. "Changing platforms, changing crafts."
If this sense of place is heard throughout Preternaturals, it can also be found in the intricacy of its composition, the delicate use of improvised sounds and unusual instrumentation. "A lot of what we do is taking the source through many different stages. It’ll hit a point where it’s such a departure, but it’ll still contain the soul of what was originally recorded. We’re not trying to emphasise any one ingredient, but trying to combust all of them," says O'Sullivan. This included recording flutes into a dictaphone and then messing with the speed, a creaking airing cupboard door ("we always like to have sound from the house on the records," says Tucker) and a small toy with bells inside ("it sounds like yaks wandering across Tibetan plains").
Preternaturals' lyrics, says Tucker, are "pure surrealistic things, fantasy imagery, emotive life stuff." "Opening the dialogue between the mundane and the magickal," elaborates O'Sullivan. "Simultaneously being the perceiver and the perceived." This approach feeds into songs that explore many central aspects of the duo's lives, both musical and otherwise. Opening track 'Neil Megson Fanclub' is their tribute to the lasting influence and legacy of Genesis P-Orridge, COUM and Throbbing Gristle. "He was the first person I discovered who manipulated the concept of a band into a transgressive artform, bringing strategies devised by Burroughs and Gysin to unsuspecting rock venues and public schools," says O'Sullivan. The murmuring chug of 'Secrets Of The Earth' has an alternative title: "our friend calls the end of this 'the tail of Satan. It’s a really pretty song but then it’s got the tail of the devil'. It reflects who we are". And 'Pluriforms' is the Grumbling Fur science fiction story, finding the duo alone on the deck of a doomed spaceship, "plummeting and drifting towards the nebula. Science fiction is never about the future. It’s always about now."
'Mr Skeleton''s title, meanwhile, came from O'Sullivan's young daughter. "It’s something that Ivy said around Halloween," he recalls. "'Daddy, Mr Skeleton’s a friend isn’t he?’ Meaning, ‘We’re making light of all this, aren’t we?’"
Such a vivid record, gliding between psychedelic process music, folk and electronic pop, required an equally striking visual aesthetic. For this, O'Sullivan and Tucker turned to Mark Titchner, with whom they have recently collaborated by writing an abstract soundtrack for Rose, his large-scale video and 7.1 surround sound installation at the Dilston Grove Gallery in South London. The pair, says O'Sullivan, see him as a kindred spirit. "He's got such a keen ear. He’s a big Austin Spare fan, and we share a fascination with the automatic process".
Grumbling Fur have already gained a reputation for their live shows, playful sessions which find the duo equally at ease translating their pop songs into shimmering collages of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, throwing wisecracks at one another across the stage, or plunging deep into extended improvised noise wig-outs. Fittingly for Preternaturals, their deepest work to date, following the album's release they promise subsequent live shows will be "a huge wall of sound, guitars, rocket ships exploding..."