Cian Ciaran – They Are Nothing Without Us.
As someone who loved the soft melodies and gorgeous orchestration of Cian Ciaran’s debut album, Outside In, I was looking forward to his new and journalistically well received follow up. I envisaged another paean to summer, love and all things smilingly whimsical, coated in a drenching of Beach Boy vocal harmonies and sonic experimentation. Yet as the needle hit the vinyl (not really, but it sounds better than “when I clicked play”), 5c Cotton 40c Beef nearly tore my head off. The opening sonic assault is a seriously stonking slab of garage rock, sounding like a cross between Cian’s other incarnation, as a Super Furry Animal, and Anton Newcombe’s band of wild musical mutineers, whilst lyrically it positively rages against the machine.
Squalling feedback introduces 43,000,000 which refers to the appalling Gleiwitz incident, a Nazi perpetrated hoax aimed at instigating war…y’know…a bit like the suggestion that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. The result of both fraudulent pre-cursors to war was the murder of millions of innocents by the instigators; and the anger of both tune and timbre gives it the chaotic and discombobulating vibe that surely represents the thought process of Governments who lie in order to murder for power and for greed.
Sewn Up sounds like a Jesus and Mary Chain protest song, containing a beguiling melody and a biting lyric that berates fat cats and the polarity between them and the masses, which only grows wider on a daily basis. They have it sewn up, as does Cian here, with two minutes of perfect pop. 1_7_69 is like a haiku in its lyrical simplicity driven along by a lolloping groove, whilst Sleepless Nights is a wonderful extended metaphor/meditation on the beauty of green energy and the fate of the world;
“Can’t see a future without you in my life”.
The lazy strum/epic sprawl of No More belies a pointed message about the lack of faith people have in the shitstem these days. The backing vocals that introduce the song are angelic and the song builds magnificently to a Badalamenti- esque crescendo, whilst also managing to be strangely reminiscent of Jeff Buckley circa My Sweetheart the Drunk. There’s echoes of something else there that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s that sort of album.
Bee My Baby is powered along by a Grandaddy type bass/drum combo and has a Pavement groove at its heart, in fact, echoes of alt-country permeates They Are Nothing Without Us, in a suitably understated way and in delicious contrast to the righteous (and well placed) indignation present in a lot of the lyrics and some of the more vicious tunes.
Madcap Syd meets Piper Pink on the slightly sinister verse of the sizzling Shape Control whilst the chorus, consisting of fuzz and melodic lines, returns us to the era of Fuzzy Logic. Sister-song the Cobain-like Down River, with its quiet-loud-quiet-load structure embellished with delicious ffeedback (that’s feedback Cymraeg) and distortion sits well preceded by Shape Control and followed by Peaked with its grungy bass and guitar intro. This triumvirate of prickly pop/rock perfectly encapsulates the overarching theme of They Are Nothing Without Us, the Lynchian position that “This whole world’s wild at heart and weird on top”. And the rest.
You Are What You Breathe sees Ciaran reaching behind him for a sugary melody before doing what he does to give his songs that unique and distinct sound. The solo careers of the various Super Furry Animals has shown just what a talented and ground-breaking band they have been; from Gruff’s well established and genre-thrashing solo canon, to Daf’s The Peth and The Earth (How Come U Think The World Revolves Around You is a Motown foot-stomper for the… well whatever this decade is called), not forgetting Guto’s Gulp (the bossa nova beats of Play/the summer chill of Hot Water) and the amalgam of influences and styles that have thus far influenced Cian’s work; the breadth of their musical knowledge is dizzying. God knows what Bunf has up his sleeve.
Cian’s Silver Sea smacks of the space of Wales; it is a lilting and lifting instrumental that evokes the wonders of the wilds of nature, and there is nowhere better than the coasts of Cian’s homeland, as does the closing Pachamama (translation: Mother Earth). The warmth of the Morricone-like strings move the song into another universe, as Pachamama scoops the listener up in her psychedelic arms and beyond the worries of all that has gone before. If only it were so easy and beautifully sound-tracked.
Cian Ciaran has made a rare album; a protest suite. Rather than containing the odd protest song, They Are Nothing Without Us is a full 46 minutes of dissent. It is wrapped up in such a range of styles that there are echoes of the last fifty years of pop streaming out of every pore.
As with all of Ciaran’s work, as a SFA and as a solo artist, TANWU is sure to benefit from repeated listening, and its message not only deserves to be heard, it needs to be heard. Now.