Fiery Furnaces brother’s solo works given a fresh promotional push.
David Stubbs 2009-12-03
Matthew Friedberger is one half of the brother/sister duo The Fiery Furnaces, a man whose need to create and record borders on the incontinent. These two solo albums were first released as a brace in 2006 but not quite given the promotional push they deserved due to distribution problems in America – hence their reissue now.
Winter Women is dedicated to his sister Eleanor, as if to emphasise that this is no attempt on Friedberger's part to break away from the Furnaces, rather a necessary venting of artistic steam. He's described it as an “unironic” album of pop songs, and so it is, bedazzled by the halcyon, blue skies of pop past, as on the Beatles/ELO-like strains of Up the River. Lyrically, these are hectic, bustling, American vignettes of travel and labour, reflected in titles like Under the Hood at the Paradise Garage and Theme from Never Going Home Again. All of this is signified by an undertow of furious activity – bubbling, squiggling and roiling Moog reminiscent of Aphex Twin, clusters of rhythm and Strawberry Fields-type mellotron, forging, misshaping and mutating these bright but unsettled pop gems.
Holy Ghost Language School is ostensibly a concept album, a distant homage to the likes of The Who's Tommy, an era when rock felt conceited and confident enough to hold your attention for the duration of an extended narrative. Actually, the story told on this album isn't entirely clear, since it actually contains fewer lyrics than Winter Women, albeit delivered with breathless urgency by Friedberger. But it's clearly a hell of a story, if the jagged, astringent instrumentation is anything to go by. Its antique electronica textures alone lend it immediacy, dynamic and the drama of a gripping novella – segmented and abruptly shaded, it even reminds of Stravinsky, as on the sudden pianistic outburst of Seventh Loop Highway or the fireworking arcs of synth on Azusa St.
Friedberger has self-deprecatingly spoken of the “amusing waste of time” of a relatively unknown artist like himself foisting his solo work on the public in such quantities and with such grand visions. However, his irresistible need to do so is infectious and transmits like an itch to the listener.