The brother-sister duo continue to puzzle and thrill in equal measures.
Mike Diver 2009-08-24
Depending on how you categorise their ten-track, 41-minute EP release of 2005, I’m Going Away is either The Fiery Furnaces’ seventh or eighth studio album. And that’s just the tip of the divisive iceberg when it comes to this New York-based brother-sister duo – since 2003’s debut Gallowsbird’s Bark, they’ve puzzled and thrilled in near equal measures.
Eleanor Friedberger – who handles the majority of the vocals while her sometime-solo-artist brother Matthew tackles studio instrumentation – is a fine spinner of yarns, to the extent where the listener can be wholly engrossed in her storytelling. But neat wordplay one moment can be followed by an ugly collision of syllables the next, as if the singer neglects to ever edit her lyric sheet.
Staring at the Steeple is an example of her singular style, both with regard to lyrical content and her delivery: punchy, but unlikely to be to everyone’s taste, and without a range wide enough to lift songs when they begin to slump. On more than one occasion you could take the words from her mouth, put Jack White in her place and craft White Stripes classic; here, though, highlights are easily identifiable on an album that flits from pillar to post without the consistency that characterised the group’s early releases.
Drive to Dallas is an endearing almost-ballad, positioned nicely at track two of twelve as if to immediately counter the playfully/painfully (delete as appropriate – it’s that sort of song) erratic opening title track. Its relaxed pace and lovelorn lyricism is immediately engaging, and while faster numbers may shout louder, it’s clear before long that they actually say a lot less. Compared to the sincerity of Drive to Dallas, the wobbly piano and percussive clatter of Charmaine Champagne seem strangely artificial, however much the “ba-ba-ba” vocal hook nags at the attentions.
Lost at Sea is affecting in the right ways – it’s torch-song-like in its delivery – and The End is Near is a delightfully quirky affair that brings Matthew into the vocal mix, as his lines entwine with those of his sister. But the peculiar show-tune flourishes of efforts like closer Take Me Round Again detract from what could have been a solid long-player. Again, The Fiery Furnaces have produced a record that will leave as many listeners scratching their heads as singing along with heartfelt reverence.