Phantom Power, their latest CD, is a surrealistic journey that encompasses gorgeous melodies, space-rock and no shortage of social commentaries. "In honesty it's been awhile / Since we had reason to smile," croons singer Gruff Rhys in the lush opener, "Hello Sunshine," but don't fret -- despair never sounded so cool and laid-back. And while such songs as "Liberty Belle" and record centerpiece "Piccolo Snare" address post-September 11 and wartime anxieties, it doesn't feel out of context when an old-school punk thrasher ("Out of Control") is followed by a plodding "Bleed Forever" later on the disc. Incorporating mambo rhythms, pedal steel guitar, horns and psychedelia with a twist of Brian Wilson and a jigger of Elvis Costello, the SFAs' music -- while taking a few listens to appreciate -- exists in a groove all its own.
While their last effort, Rings Around the World, was more of a "grand statement," Phantom Power is a more accessible way to meet these crazed Welsh boyos.