Music Artist Spotlight – 02/21

The Fiery Furnaces

For years, songwriters have taken to using complex word wizardry to achieve poetic pieces that tell a story using as few words as possible. The Fiery Furnaces, on the other hand, are not afraid to use their knowledge of the english language to use as many words as they damn well choose to tell you that story. Brother and Sister duo Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger make up the main driving force behind the band. Long gone are the days where stanzas consisted of 12 words that would tell you a year’s worth of story. Instead, the siblings Friedberger respect your intelligence by using words not frequently used in daily conversation to tell you the same story, only instead of 12 words that stanza is closer to 500. Don’t let this turn you off, though. The stories are complex and entertaining, given that you are able to tolerate their brand of music. Originally starting off as a minimalist blues rock group with their first album Gallowsbird’s Bark the group soon employed a unique sound and frantic style in their followup album Blueberry Boat. Many critics and fans believe that this was to separate themselves from the (at the time thought to be) other brother + sister blues rock duo The White Stripes.

The group continued their odd musical creations, following up with an album confusingly titled EP, an album telling the story of their grandmother Olga Sarantos titled Rehearsing my Choir, and the saccharin sweet “pop” album Bitter Tea. Each album offering songs with strange stories such as the song “Single Again” which tells the tale of a woman who enjoys getting into abusive relationships, and the song “Straight Street” which tells the tale of a cell phone salesperson who deals with strange cultures in other countries which almost leads to them being put to death by stoning. Conventional is hardly a word used when describing the Fiery Furnaces. Surrounding their stories of woe is some complex instrumentation with wild time signatures and strange sounds (Use of the “backmasking” technique became a central instrument in the album Bitter Tea) which help thrust you into the mania of the worlds the Fiery Furnaces bring you to. Some people enjoy the unique approach, while others refer to it as “pure noise” and tune it out without giving the songs a chance. Guitars are plenty to be found, but so are pianos of various ages and styles, foreign instruments, and oddball electronic snippets.

Equally as challenging to the listener is the Furnaces’ live show. From time to time, they will play a gig in Medley mode, which consists of the group playing an entire album from start to finish, but cutting a song in half and at some random time during the song moving on to the next song, seamlessly transitioning from one song to the next as if it was intended. Some people cannot adjust to this sudden jarring effect and will leave after the first few songs. Other, more die hard fans will say that part of the fun is waiting for this psychotic skipping to start. They also recently toured playing songs in a tropical island mode, using steel drums, tambourines, and acoustic guitars to perform their arrangements. This was detested even further by the general public, and caused an even greater amount of walk-outs. Despite this seemingly sadistic attitude, the group does in fact play songs normally most of the time.

Their latest album, Widow City was a return to form to more basic instrumentation and can be seen as the most accessible of their releases next to their debut. They are already at work on a follow up, with an interesting twist to the album’s development. The group has begun what they call “Democ-rock” which fans are to send in slips of paper, pamphlets, anything that they think will help built a story for a song. So far, the reaction from the fan community has been fairly large and the group expects several albums worth of material to surface from the initial run. This provides further evidence that the Fiery Furnaces cannot sit still with one idea for too long.

While the Furnaces are an incredibly difficult band to start getting into, those that find the will to sit through and understand what is going on behind the thrashing sounds coming from their speakers will find some of the most well written stories of recent songwriting.

Fiery Furnaces Official Website

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Published in: on February 21, 2008 at 10:32 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] people manage to go the distance even farther than them. A while ago I had written about the group The Fiery Furnaces, a brother sister duo who had managed to squeeze out 4 albums and one double solo […]


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