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Super Furry Animals 

Rings Around the World (Sony)

On paper, the Super Furry Animals aren't very likable: goofy name, deliberate blend of eclectic genres, fondness for '70s pop pap, not to mention techno music. These elements usually translate to "too ambitious," which usually translates to "too pretentious." The band bought a soccer team, for Chrissakes!

But a listen to Rings Around the World will wipe the smirk right off your mug. An amazingly rich record, Rings legitimizes SFA as one of the leading creative forces in experimental rock. The Welsh quintet has beefed up production from past recordings and managed to streamline the musical schizophrenia just enough to make seemingly obnoxious musical combos succeed. "Sympathy" starts off sounding like James Taylor, but ends up closer to Aphex Twin's Richard D. James Album. Syrupy strings and warm brass are other Me Decadeisms that pop up throughout, buoying songs such as "Juxtapozed With U" and "Presidential Suite." On the highlight "It's Not the End of the World," Gruff Rhys's falsetto soars atop heavenly strings: "Yet as our hair turns white/All the stars still shine so bright above." As the song climaxes, we're instructed to turn "all the hate in the world/Into a mockingbird/Make it fly away." From a group that relies heavily on goofing around, moments such as this are surprising and beautiful.

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