Review: Cian Ciarán – They Are Nothing Without Us
Published on August 26th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
It’s true: Cian Ciarán really can do anything. The erstwhile Super Furry Animals electronics guru broke hearts with the fragile beauty of last year’s Outside In, and its successor They Are Nothing Without Us, available via Pledge Music, starts out as a hard-rocking protest album.
“If we don’t make our voices heard, why should we deserve to stay?” he asks on set-opener “5c Cotton 40c Beef”, laying bare the righteous anger – the Furry fury, perhaps – that permeates They Are Nothing Without Us even when it melts into psychedelic space rock on its second side.
It’s an absolutely stunning opener, to boot; Ciarán pitch-bends his vocal melody superbly over a crunchy guitar riff, then plies it with a Beatles-y harmony in the second verse before letting rip with some squelchy, bubbly lead guitar that’s pure Furry. Even at this early stage, it’s quite clear that we’re in for something special.
The riff of the ensuing “43,000,000” verges on doom metal, Ciarán’s wailing vocal repetition so effective overhead. On top of everything else – he even plays drums on the album, rattling and rumbling with a gleeful abandon characterised by firecracker fills – he’s become a really quite excellent front man.
In reference to the Gleiwitz incident that was a catalyst for World War II, “43,000,000” ends with a standalone, absurdly strangulated delivery of “43,000,000…one gunshot…for fuuuck’s saaake…what…does…it…taaaake?” courtesy of one Titch Jones from Merthyr Tydfil. So far, They Are Nothing Without Us could scarcely be any more different to Outside In.
Proceedings take a marked turn for the poppier with “Sewn Up”, which could almost be Teenage Fanclub were it not for lyrics like “You morally corrupt fucking murderers” and “I hope you choke on your profit” (or is that ‘prophet’?). “Sewn Up”, by the way, is also the title track of a pre-album EP to be released on September 16th through Cornershop’s marvellous Ample Play label.
The ensuing “1/7/69” is a thoughtfully laid-out psychedelic jangle with overlapping backing vocals, an irresistible degree of light dissonance and a breakdown section decorated by a water droplet-y keyboard sound traceable back to “Back on a Roll” from SFA’s luxurious 2005 LP Love Kraft.
This more considered pace continues, er, not-quite-apace with “Sleepless Nights”, a gorgeous, reflective number that feels lyrically reconcilable with Outside In (“Can’t see no future without you in my life”) but is apparently an ode to wind turbines, before the rueful, strung-out and psychedelic “No More” harks back to the Ciarán of another Love Kraft cut, namely “Cabin Fever”.
Its low, fuzzy lead line is such a treat, even more so when it’s joined by an octave harmony, and it drifts off into a wilderness of piano the likes of which is but one of the manifold spells Ciarán is capable of weaving to magical effect whenever he turns to it (c/f “Cabin Fever”, as well as “Carbon Dating” from 2007’s Hey Venus!).
If Rocksucker had to make a criticism of They Are Nothing Without Us, it’s that the power chords in the chorus of “Down River” err a little too close to those from “Kevin Carter” by Manic Street Preachers. It’s a great hook, though, so that’s barely even a criticism.
Basically, such is Cian Ciarán’s genius that he can even make power ballads sound good, as on “You Are What You Breathe”. Heck, he even manages to get away with singing “I get a buzz from you” on the pun-tastic yet deadly serious dire warning of “Bee My Baby”…not just get away with it, in fact, but make it sound ridiculously endearing.
His mastery of dynamics is particularly well evidenced on “Shape Control”, which broods fuzzily in its verse then acquires a thrilling sudden burst of energised, wonky melody for its chorus. He even slips in an instrumental, “Silver Sea”, which chimes elegantly even through its crunchy, driving guitar chords.
“Pachamama” sends us off with a vintage string sound and, later, a classic Ciarán bleep loop for the moody, faintly Mogwai-esque instrumental outro. Musically, They Are Nothing Without Us dabbles with all sorts and comes out smelling of roses at every turn, all the while pining for that rosy scent to permeate the world that we as a species are trashing to within an inch of its life.
They Are Nothing Without Us is fit to rival Super Furry Animals classics Rings Around the World and Phantom Power as a genuinely great modern protest album. Yours truly is yet to dish out the full five-quail treatment to an album from this year – or even, come to think of it, from last year – but, if you’ll pardon an extension of the bird theme, it’s time to break that duck.
Cian Ciarán has truly excelled himself, and if you’re familiar with his past works then that’s something that may require wrapping your head around. Will the world take notice? On more than one count, it just has to.
They Are Nothing Without Us will be released on September 23rd and is available via Pledge Music. The Pledge campaign ends on September 9th, so pledge now to get your copy two weeks before the shops.
The Sewn Up EP will be released on September 16th via Ample Play.
Rocksucker says: Five Quails out of Five!