#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.


#51

October 1, 2010

The Fiery FurnacesWidow City
experimental-rock, indie-pop
2007

The Fiery Furnaces - Widow CityCall it Blueberry Boat’s slightly less accomplished little sibling, if you want. While the classic-rock influences and somewhat retro-focused approach certainly infuse Widow City with an identity all of its own amongst the Fiery’s body of work, it definitely stands as the release most similar in style to the duo’s breakout second album. The sprawling, genre-hopping, relentless creativity of Blueberry Boat is in full-force here, meaning that the album covers an awful lot of ground during its lengthy runtime – Eleanor makes her first attempt at old-school hip-hop, juxtaposed against blazing noise-rock and flourishes of harp, on “Automatic Husband”; the group’s trademark narrative-based story-songs are delivered on “The Philadelphia Grand Jury”, “My Egyptian Grammar”, “Cabaret of the Seven Devils” and a few more tracks besides, and they’re just as engrossing, unique and highly unusual as ever before; “Clear Signal From Cairo” is a hard-rock track that’s heavier than anything the Friedberger’s have created before or since; “Wicker Whatnots” features some subterranean basslines and drums so skittish they border on Squarepusher; and the title-track is perhaps the strangest of all, being made up of fractured bursts of upright piano and fluttering effects-filtered percussion. Importantly, there are a number of more accessible, relatively straightforward cuts to offset all this mayhem, with tunes like “Duplexes of the Dead” (which features some great wah-wah), “Ex-Guru”, “Right By Conquest” and “Pricked in the Heart” keeping proceedings from getting too out of hand. All this makes Widow City an incredibly charming effort, with enough great songs and clever ideas packed into its sixteen tracks to thoroughly satisfy any fan of exciting, forward-thinking rock music.