#6

November 22, 2010

The Fiery Furnaces – Blueberry Boat
experimental-rock, progressive-pop
2004

I love the kind of densely layered albums that reward repeat listening and perseverance with exciting new discoveries and previously unnoticed subtleties, albums that just seem to go deeper and deeper the further you dig. When it comes to that kind of product, Blueberry Boat is quite simply the proverbial bottomless pit of all albums released during the 2000s. The Fiery Furnaces showed plenty of creative spark on their debut, but nothing whatsoever could have prepared listeners for what was coming next. This The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boatrabbit hole of an album overflows with more musical concepts, quirks and ideas than many people can keep up with (and it has the divisive critical response to prove it!), demanding multiple plays just to absorb what’s resting on the surface. For the patient and attentive listener, though, there’s just so much with which to fall in love. Matt and Eleanor Freidberger inject their songs with such a degree of creativity and relentless boundary-pushing that uniquely fascinating and surprising moments seem to be hiding around every corner – “Quay Cur” features nursery-rhyme tales punctured by stabs of short-burst garage-rock; “My Dog Was Lost But Now He’s Found”, in addition to playing out as an extended pun itself, features a lyrical gag followed by an almost too-subtle “boom boom” in the background; the massive guitar solo hiding one minute into “Mason City” feels like lost treasure; the chaotic introduction to “Wolf Notes” sounds like it’s raining musical instruments; “Straight Street” features the same melody throughout, but on every verse the instrumentation being used it subtly altered from the one before it; the narrative song “Chief Inspector Blancheflower” has enough content that an entire movie could be made of it; “Birdie Brain’s” warbling, wah-wah melody is one of the most creative riffs you’ll ever hear; and the title track’s tale of pirates invading a boat to steal its precious blue cargo, only to be confronted by a resilient captain Eleanor, is way better than any children’s story, and it’s catchy too. There’s so much more, but I don’t want to reveal all the surprises that lie within Blueberry Boat. They’re scattered throughout the album so generously that it’ll take the average listener ten plays to come close to catching them all. The best part is, it’ll then take dozens more listens to satisfy the insatiable urge to hear them over and over again.

#20

November 5, 2010

The Fiery Furnaces – Rehearsing My Choir
progressive-pop, experimental-pop
2005

Rehearsing My Choir is a semi-fabricated-but-seemingly-largely-truthful account of the life and marriage of Matt and Eleanor Friedberger’s grandmother, the 83-year-old Olga Sarantos, who also contributes vocals for the majority of the album. Interestingly, in a development that proved to be more than some listeners could bear, she sounds like something along the lines of an androgynous cartoon character. Convoluted and impossibly layered, it’s yet another album in the Fiery Furnaces catalogue that greatly rewards repeat listens. Across 52 minutes Sarantos delivers a finely detailed account of her life, loves and personal challenges, scattered across multiple decades and locations, all set to a backing of wildly eclectic instrumentation including electronica, toy piano, noise rock, blues, folk, electro-pop, church organs, a capella and ragtime. There’s an almost ridiculous quantity of plot crammed into this album – infidelity, gypsy curses, wartime separation, the magical medicinal properties of doughnuts, gun The Fiery Furnaces - Rehearsing My Choirfights, bowling alleys, failed marriages, inventive cookery, meeting the in-laws while drunk (“I reached for the arm of the armchair … and missed”), questionable church communities, adventurous road trips, marriages, deaths, a story of two Kevins (or, “you mean two jerks“, as Olga informs us) and, of course, the rehearsing of one’s choir. The interplay between Olga and Eleanor, who acts as something of a muse, narrator and voice of the past all at once, is spectacular, and provides some of the most clever, funny & poignant lyrics the group have ever conjured. Many parts of the album are ingeniously self-referential, and the whole production ties together to create a sense of wholeness that every concept album should possess. An incredible journey from start to finish.


#80

August 2, 2010

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
art-pop, progressive-pop
2009

Bitte Orca strikes me as less a “pop album” and something more akin to an academic study in melody. Dave Longstreth assembles his pieces like a composer, and even though the results can be a little bit bewildering at times – it’s fair to say that he intentionally skews an awful lot of standard, pop-music conventions – there’s an underlying solidity to the songs that makes them surprisingly easy to sink into. In that regard, it’s easy to draw comparisons between Dirty Projectors and avant-pop pioneers Talking Heads. However, while David Dirty Projectors - Bitte OrcaByrne’s obsessions with world music and the exploration of sound resulted in Talking Head’s finest albums being amazingly broad in scope, Longstreth prefers to stay closer to home, sticking primarily to the use of guitar, bass, keys, percussion, mild electronics and (a myriad of uses of) the human voice. His toolkit might be limited, but he finds an incredible number of uses for every tool. Band members Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman, whose voices were used quite sparingly, if at all, on previous releases, get a stronger showing here, and the album is so much richer for it, with “Stillness is the Move” in particular being a wonderful vocal showcase. The album is possibly a little front loaded, with the first four tracks being arguably its best, but the quality remains high enough that it never becomes a problem. Fans of willfully creative and unusual pop music should consider this essential listening.