I had high hopes for this one. I saw Race Horses live a couple of times before they split up, and while I don't recall anything as specific as how the songs went or what they sounded like, I do distinctly remember having a jolly good time on both occasions. And then there's Lisa Magic a Porfa, a song that Race Horses released when they were still called Radio Luxembourg - I'm rather fond of that particular track (which I heard on a Welsh language compilation called Rwy'n Caru Ciwdod or something like that), and I expected more of the same from Furniture.
And it delivered...sort of. This album is never quite as carefree and childlike as Lisa Magic a Porfa was, but Racy O'Luxemhorses still have a way with great, arresting tunes. At first it seemed like there were only a couple of standouts; it was immediately clear that Mates and Sisters would be right up there with Sure Fire Bet and Between Destinations on the 'Best of the WMP 2013 Shortlist' playlist I'll inevitably end up making when I'm done with all this, but the other tracks weren't so obviously awesome.
But a few spins later and I'm loving the whole darn thing. In a way, I'm actually glad of the differences between this band and the one that recorded Lisa Magic a Porfa; while that song, a sunny burst of fun if ever I heard one, was great on its own, that wide-eyed approach might have grown a little tedious over the course of an entire LP. By contrast, the songs that make up Furniture are more grown-up, more apprehensive, more doubtful, and they hit all the harder for it.
What sounds slightly messy at first soon reveals itself to be an album full of direct hits, serving up track after track of punch, poppy pleasantness. Nobody's Son is insistent and large-sounding, My Year Aroad throbs alluringly, and What Am I To Do seems like a quieter one but then explodes out of the traps when it reaches its chorus. Special mention should go to both the keys player and whoever was in charge of percussion, because as good as the basic tunes are, it's these ear-catching instrumental embellishments that keep me coming back for more. Kudos.
In many ways, Furniture is the album that I wanted Ships to be: jam-packed with different instruments and fun little frills, but underpinned by a slightly more serious atmosphere. Perhaps I had the wrong idea of Sweet Baboo's sound, but either way, it's nice to have old expectations belatedly fulfilled by something completely different.
So...is it better than Praxis Makes Perfect?
Yes! There are a couple of tracks I'm not that keen on (namely Bad Blood and See No Green), but as my Praxis Makes Perfect post made clear, that's also true of the Neon Neon album (hello Hoops with Fidel and Listen to the Rainbow). The weird thing about Furniture - and this is one thing that is has in common with the Zervas & Pepper album - is that, while the doubt and the melancholy that I keep mentioning are undeniable, it's kind of difficult to pin down exactly what any of these doubtful and melancholic (but still pretty catchy) songs are about. Perhaps I just need to listen harder, or longer, but if anything, this lack of clarity just makes Furniture's superiority to Praxis... all the more amazing.
Allow me to break it down for you. I first heard Praxis Makes Perfect in April, and since then I've read into its subject matter, been to see a theatrical performance based on the album, and obviously listened to those songs any number of times. I first heard Furniture this morning, and in the space of a day I've gone from not being especially bothered about all but a couple of choice cuts...to singing the album's praises and being more or less content to hand the Welsh Music Prize to Race Horses right here and now. The remaining four nominees - Little Arrow, Metabeats, Georgia Ruth and Trwbador - have a real mountain to climb now.
In the meantime, congratulations to Furniture, which has shown me that a big, noisy smorgasbord of sounds can sometimes be even better than Gruff Rhys and his cold, crisp synthesisers. It has also impressed me sufficiently to grab that 'current favourite album' slot on the right-hand side of my blog (and a good thing, too, because A Short Album About Love has been sat on that particular throne for far too long now).
I'm still in love with Praxis Makes Perfect, and I would still be thrilled if Neon Neon won the WMP, but what we now have is an album that seems even more deserving of the crown. Come on back on Wednesday to see if Metabeats can beat our new champeens.