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Warm, fuzzy feeling

Super Furry Animals ply positivity with a cynical edge


Those who don't know any better might assume that Super Furry Animals' latest release, Rings Around the World, is the Welsh band's shameless bid for U.S. acceptance. But the truth is, the group has been getting on quite well without our help going on nine years now.

Even so, Rings Around the World is easily the most Americanized SFA album yet, and the perfect, better-late-than-never introduction to a band with so much to offer and myriad ways in which to package it. Produced by SFA and Chris Shaw (Public Enemy, Bob Dylan) partly at Bearsville Studio in Woodstock, N.Y., Rings is a near-flawless distillation of the group's schizoid blend of techno tinkering, pop/soul platitudes, eco-friendly politics, jarring punk-like interludes and elegant vocal harmonies. SFA's infatuation with rock's sunny Left Coast mystique has never been more pronounced. They slather on the U.V. protection especially thick on "Sidewalk Serfer Girl" (ELO crash lands in Venice Beach, Calif.), "No Sympathy" (Crosby, Stills, Nash never sounded less geriatric) and "(Drawing) Rings Around the World" (the Beach Boys go cellular).

"Just before we went into the studio, we were listening to a lot of Gene Clark -- American country, harmonies," says bassist Guto Pryce. "But we didn't dress up like cowboys; we didn't want to be purists about it."

While quirkier, upbeat material has always been SFA's stock in trade, the ballads are the real stunners on Rings. "It's Not the End of World" strives to counteract the random aches of pains of growing old in gorgeously overblown fashion; "Presidential Suite" looks back unsparingly at the decadent, ego-driven '90s through the eyes of lead singer and primary lyricist Gruff Rhys. The album peaks with "Run! Christian, Run!," a celestial plea for sanity in an Internet-obsessed society of doomsday prophecies and televangelical bullying, which achieves a sort of "we are the world" transcendence via one of the most galvanizing choruses in recent memory.

"We're probably just getting better with every album," says Pryce. "We've never professed to be geniuses and know exactly what we're doing. We enjoy the happy mistakes we make as we're going along. Maybe we're refining it a little better."

Ostensibly on a mission to fuse the electronic and organic, Super Furry Animals emerged in 1993 out of collision of the techno and punk aesthetics. After a pair of EPs on a tiny Welsh label, SFA signed with Creation Records, onetime home to Happy Mondays and Oasis. Soon enough, along came their guitar-heavy 1996 debut, Fuzzy Logic, followed by the wistful, less-predictable Radiator ('97) and 1999's Guerrilla. By 2000's Mwng, an album sung completely in the band's consonant-crazy native tongue, it seemed SFA had all but cemented its reputation as a feel-good anomaly with a distinct set of priorities that made a potential American breakthrough about as likely as an asteroid careening into Fiji.

"We've got a strong pop sensibility, and we never want to exclude people," Pryce says. "We hope as many people as possible will enjoy what we're trying to do."

Still, it's hard to ignore the fact that, until now, SFA has never felt compelled to tour the southern U.S. And Pryce, for one, is looking forward to a warmer climate.

"We don't really get extreme weather over here," he says. "It's just crap all the time."

Super Furry Animals play Tues., April 30, at the Cotton Club, 152 Luckie St. 8 p.m. $12.50-$15. 404-688-1193.

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