Side-projects can be a complicated affair, particularly if you’re a fan of the precursory band. Acolytes find themselves talking up a lesser-known record they might not actually like very much, but a perceived obligation of support results in them writing cheques their misplaced loyalty can’t cash.
Cards on the table, Super Furry Animals are my favourite band, so when, in 2006, Cian Ciarán’s Acid Casuals side-project released their debut (and only album to date) ‘Omni’, I was faced with no such predicament. In fact, the problem was it was good as, if not better than anything by the Furries.
Having adored the ‘Bowl Me Over’ EP from November 2005, the album’s eventual release in January of the following year seemed to take an ice age. But when it arrived, it was one of those rarities where something instantly elbowed its way to the top of my favourites list, loitering around ever since.
There are several reasons for this, but the unique way its tone effortlessly shifts and changes is undeniable. And then two-thirds of the way in, the sound ascends from a North Walian, wind-blasted Balearic (Lake Bala-earic?), into a fleshier, less electronic beast. During the vamping piano motif on ‘Long Time No See’, there are several cleansing seconds of birdsong before live drums grab the reigns from the programmed beat, accelerating towards a fraught finish. Is this a techno record or bubblegum pop? I still couldn’t tell you.
But the main reason I fell in love with ‘Omni’ is he way it manages to be supremely familiar while revealing something new every time. The penultimate track, ‘Luciano’, for example, builds around synthesised chimes that niggle the brain. Where do I know this from? And then it clicks – a sliver of that sample appears at the start of ‘Dacw Hi’ from the Super Furry’s ‘Mwng’ album . Oh yeah! It’s as though Acid Casuals have created a treasure map where fans of the original band and fans of the side project can embark on overlapping adventures, X marking the same spot on discrete journeys through familiar yet undiscovered landscapes.
I’ve listened to it atop mountains and in forests, repeated it again and again while walking from the north coast of Wales to the south, and never has it tarnished or tired. From the faux-Parisian accordion of ‘JT 100%’, which seems to sit, almost sarcastically outside of a Welsh teashop in omnipresent drizzle, to the sparkling electro Showaddywaddy stomp of ‘Bowl Me Over’, it’s a sonic gift that keeps on giving however and wherever I press play.