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Published: 2007/10/22
by Randy Ray

Widow City – The Fiery Furnaces

Thrill Jockey 70189

Ritalin has not found its way into the ADD-laden musical soup of the Fiery Furnaces. That isn’t necessarily a gripe as the band continues their meticulous audio montage recordings with jangled fragments nestled next to lean, melodic etchings on . Perhaps, most telling, on their latest sprawling multi-layered canvas, is the band’s evolution into an experimental band that records acid-bite lyrics mixed with hard rock. They are led by multi-instrumentalist sound guru Matthew Friedberger and his sister, Eleanor on lead vocals and inverted-cutup, lyrical tone poemsrichly evocative of no one in particular but embracing a weird line between Holly Golightly and a superhero space alien yet to be created by some aspiring filmmaker in a tiny walk-up flat.

The songs gravitate towards the herky-jerky and the euphoric betwixt someone really fucked up but pretty apt at twisting the knobs on late night radio in a really cool city that doesn’t quite exist anymore. Two, three, seven minute songs all slide and twist and cut against each other and the whole is not just greater than the sum of its parts but on these twin LP slabs, the band gets the individual pieces to shine in a pretty intoxicating light, as well. That may be the hook to grasp their intricate yet accessible obscurios. The double LP is rooted in the past with electronic snippets from various post-post New Wave raped by soiled-rag garage grunge hinged to ambient 70s hard space rock and then againthere is an eerie girl group gone wrong vibe that is celebrated with jaded abandon.

“The Philadelphia Grand Jury” is the opening track and serves as an oddly extravagant seven-minute overtureguitars riff, pianos tinkle, drums slap, bass hums and Friedberger rails against those “crooked sons-of-bitches.” “Duplexes of the Dead” is downright glorious with a memorable hook that rocks and the song even floats into jam terrain intertwined with a Middle Eastern hue before segueing into “Automatic Husband”one of the few nods to the enhanced demo-rock-tracks-rolling-out-of-a broken-kaleidoscope that the band excels at presenting. “Ex-Guru” introduces the funk but quickly fades into pure crunchy bliss via guitars on level 11 in “”Clear Signal From Cairo,” which never quite figures out what it wants to be but that, again, isn’t necessarily a snarky gripe. What makes this band so interesting is the way that the quintet absolutely refuses to get too deeply involved in the trance vibe that melodies offer. One thing leads to another and back again and thenwho knew? Another mildly psychotic detour that works well before Eleanor finds something equally baffling to tweak in her sharp lyrics.

The 21st centuryand 2007, specificallyappears to be a time when music is not just a necessity but an addiction which requires artists to find new ways to create that high that lasts longer than two or three minutes. And to be sure, the Furnaces handle that chore in an effective, tried-and-true vocals-bass-drums-guitars-organs-freaky effect format and yettheir own idiomthat word “idiom”what are they creating? What century is this? The last one with recorded human history? It comes creeping in like the primitive animal sounds in “The Old Hag is Sleeping” and the future man in the Japanese Sleepers inwell, on “Japanese Sleepers,” a cool pastiche of everything multi-personality-conflicted about this litany of medleys-on-acid band. “Sleepers” is followed on the heels by a Jimmy Page outtake rave up “Navy Nurse” (itself later followed up by some more Friedberger riff magic on “Uncle Charlie” with a killer guitar crunch ala Zappa and a Dylanesque vocal rant which segues into the Middle Inner City in which the siblings Friedberger inhabit and dominate with tight-fisted ADD glee). They also stalk the halls of history on the early '70s somnambulist romp, “Restorative Beer,” including some sweet woodwinds via the Mellotron and a Philip Glass interlude, which is a film waiting to happen.

Nothing stays the same in this universe and yet, it certainly doesn’t change much either. However, the Fiery Furnaces have found a way to circumvent that mysterious riddle by navigating geography somewhere in between the strange and the familiar.

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