Saturday, July 24, 2004

The Firey Furnaces - Blueberry Boat (Sanctuary, 2004)

Last year, Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, known as The Firey Furnaces came out of nowhere with their debut CD Gallowsbird’s Bark, one of the quirkiest and most interesting rock and roll CDs of the year. Their music combined everything from garage rock to techno and the English music hall tradition, and in a world full of flaccid pop music and cookie cutter “alternative” rock their music was a refreshing jolt.

Their second disc, Blueberry Boat, was released to very high expectations in the wake of the buzz surrounding their first disc and subsequent high profile gigs opening for Franz Ferdinand. The first thing you notice about the new disc is that if anything, the Friedberger’s have become more experimental in their approach, adding a lot of progressive rock influenced synthesizers and lengthening some of their songs to near epic proportions. The opening cut on the disc “Quay Cur” runs nearly 12 minutes of synth driven narrative – say what you will, but you cannot accuse them of trying to sell out to the pop market.

The lyrics of the music have really taken on a life of their own, coming in almost a Dylanesque stream of consciousness manner. Both of the Friedberger’s sing well, although Eleanor gets the majority of the vocals and makes the most of them, switching between swaggering and self confident singing like the title track where she is the captain of an imaginary boat full of blueberries attacked by pirates to the coy singing on “Inspector Blancheflower” where she trades of vocal sections with her brother, her section being an strange ditty about a police investigation.

The music is nearly as fascinating as the lyrics and just as confounding as well. Rounding out the traditional rock and roll lineup of guitar-bass-drums with an array of synths and electronic gear, the songs have arrangements that meet the grandiosity of their lyrics. The music halts, shifts and changes without warning that gives much of the proceedings a slightly disjointed feel.

The Firey Furnases have solidified their place as one of the most interesting bands on the current music scene. By abandoning the traditional pop song lyric and musical structure, they have set themselves apart in an increasingly tepid musical landscape. This album is not perfect, it’s overlong and experimental, but it shows that if the Friedberger’s grasp ever catches up with their reach, they will truly be a band to be reckoned with.

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