On Second Thought
The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat

By: Mike Powell
2005-04-05



Posted 04/05/2005 - 10:49:54 AM by bendsinister:
 here, here
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 11:10:19 AM by jrothman:
 thirded--this album was the most overrated record of last year. totally boring and annoyingly pretentious. even their band name is lame.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 12:23:54 PM by browngirl5566:
 thank you lord. this is hands down the most annoying album to me (aside from ms. joanna newsom) of 2004. the lyrics are infuriatingly quirkly. so glad a respected publication has finally exposed this crap band for what it is. an annoying art school project. does anyone else hear how out of tune elenor's voice is? ugh....
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 12:31:47 PM by timellison:
 The whole criticism about the lyrics hinges on the idea that they're "bad" or "poorly written," as though they're being held to some classicist academic standard. What does the criticism of the lyrics to "I Lost My Dog" amount to, though? That's they're silly? That the rhymes are too obvious? I think of that Pere Ubu song with the lyric "George had a hat/It wasn't where it's at" (or whatever that was). As a matter of fact, the silliness throughout this album (not just lyrically, but musically as well) reminds me of the Red Krayola. It's like a Red Krayola record with more of an Elephant 6 "kitchen sink psychedelia" approach. In fact, I'd say that it's a great realization of this style. In general, I think there are lots of great musical themes throughout this album as well, and that you shortchange it a bit.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 12:45:08 PM by mbloodyv:
 Don't get me wrong, I despise this album and its fucking "suites," but I found the lyrics and phrasing of "I Lost My Dog" make it the only song I enjoy on the album. The lyrics are intended to be cutesy and naive, and for some reason the song works. Now, the rest of them...ugh.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 12:53:38 PM by timellison:
 The Dadaists was "trying to be naive," too.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 01:19:51 PM by simonlebon:
 Hi there, I completely agree that this album was very much over-rated. Seeing them live sealed the deal for me, I really didn’t get it. Snooze.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 01:29:19 PM by gloden:
 #1 album of the year? Where are all you Stylus writers, and why aren't you running to this album's defense?
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 01:39:24 PM by rasm0225:
 Response #1: I can't say I disagree with most of the analysis of the record. (The guitar player is short on chops. The vocal phrasing is unnatural at best.) But I do disagree with how it's applied to the worth of the record. I think ambition counts for a lot. Especially when it seems that guitar-oriented indie rock has become so homogenized. Many indie-guitar records over the last few years seem to fit into either the post-punk vein (the other "FF", Futureheads, Strokes, etc), or the sad bastards with beards and acoustic guitars (Iron and Wine, Bonnie P Bill, etc). I guess I respond to FF BB the way I think some people responded to the Velvet Underground in 1967. Psychedelic Pop was flourishing but becoming very structured and safe. And along came a group that restored an experimental and visceral energy to music at the expense of musicianship, production, and a willingness to edit themselves. And it continues to have a revitalizing effect on each generation that discovers it. Blueberry Boat is revitalizing to many listeners today and I hope it is in the future. Response #2 (somewhat contradictory, somewhat repetitive): I was disappointed in FF EP. And perhaps ‘Single Again’ validates Mike Powell’s point in his reconsideration of Blueberry Boat. “Single Again” has a tenth of the ideas that a song like “Quay Cur” has. And to my ears, keeping it simple really made the song fall flat. There are no significant variations in the instrumentation. There are only 2 verses (if I remember correctly) and are internally repetitive (like 12 bar blues phrasing) and they are recycled later in the song. I find the song really boring. It doesn’t seem they can right a simple and sublime melody or lyric. Rather, they have to blitz you with a hundred sounds, words, or ideas. Which leads me to the conclusion that FF really are about quantity, not quality. But to what end? A lot of people have complained about the naïveté (my spellcheck added those fancy accent marks) or pretentiousness. And I’ll be damned if I can really articulate a broad artistic statement lyrically or musically. Other than… um… ADVENTURE!!! But when I put the record on and those first two minutes of “Quay Cur” unfold, I feel like I’m going somewhere. Like when Tom Wait’s sings “We sail to night for Singapore. We’re all as mad as hatters here.” And I can’t think of a record that has done that for me in a long time. For people like me who were (for some unexplainable reason) buying early Genesis tapes in 1988 when we were 14 years old, this record is a real treat. It doesn’t have the poignancy of the Unicorns “Who will cut our hair” or the Microphones “the Glow pt. 2”, but it certainly has the scope and imagination.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 01:43:09 PM by MEKsLP:
 i liked blueberry boat a lot thats really i all i got
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 01:53:37 PM by ectocooler:
 Too much discussion. You give this album more credit than it deserves. I could have written this article in two sentences. "This bitch is fucking annoying and deserving of a fatal and brutal strangling. Fuck these guys."
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 02:47:51 PM by mikepowell:
 I'm excited that this has sparked a discussion. For all you flat out BB-haters: sorry, but I don't agree. I think this album is fine, but not jeans-creaming- I don't think that "this bitch is fucking annoying" (but I can't argue with taste). Tim- I love the Red Krayola, and love Pere Ubu. Both bands are dark, manic, and somewhat threatening. FF are kind of precious, if you ask me. The Dadists weren't trying to be naive, they were trying to shake up the flow of everyday life; the original impulse of Dada was a kind of aesthetic violence, any history of the movement acknowledges that. This album disrupted nothing for me except, at times, the joy I find in existence, and my unflinching faith in the possibility of new music being really good. rasm0225, 2 things: I feel like I'm "going somewhere" when I listen to BB as well, I just never actually get there- it's half-baked. "Single Again" does have only a tenth of the ideas of "Quay Cur," but in my opinion, they're all ten times better, so my personal economics: 10 minutes of ideas for 2.5 minutes of time v. 2.5 minutes of ideas for 10 minutes = a good deal. I don't want to hog the thread here, but I feel like these are all good points, and I appreciate the discussion, really.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 03:37:46 PM by idunnowhy:
 I like how you refused to attack the band for the shortcomings of BB by acknowledging the brilliance of much of EP. This is what keeps your review from being too negative-- an appreciation for the fact that an artistic statement does not serve as an extension of the artists themselves in their entirety.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 04:02:11 PM by MoldyMan:
 i think the album was the best of last year, i recognise that its got its bad points, like every album, but i dont see why we must go through them for the sake of our own dignity. just enjoy the record. some of the lyrics may be unimaginative, and some may seem independent from the music, but to me those critisisms are minor compared to the positives of the album and dont really matter. as a concept the album may not work compared to something like smile an prog rock stuff, but again this dosnt effect my enjoyment of it.the cocepts ar ekinda seperate from the actual music. i agree with u about the guitar solo's, they do spoil it a bit, but i really like the solo at the end of blanchflower.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 04:29:24 PM by timellison:
 Mike, it's not as though "dark, manic, and threatening" are necessarily positives, though, just as being "precious" is certainly not necessarily a negative. (I actually personally think calling FF "precious" is overstatement anyway. A lot of people seem to have strong negative reactions in general to people making music that's cute.) As far as Dada goes, I meant that the Dadaists were "trying to be naive" in the sense of babbling like babies. And there is a sense of humor there and I think this is related to the sense of humor on Blueberry Boat.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 04:30:59 PM by timellison:
 (Also, just as an aside -- I don't see Red Krayola as being dark, manic, and threatening. Often a very playful group.)
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 04:47:56 PM by JustinC-L:
 Am I the only one here who *loves* Eleanor's voice? The tone, the delivery, all of it. Especially on EP.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 05:44:34 PM by acid_puppy:
 I agree that the guitar-playign is wank-y at best, and some of the lyrics/singing are a bit awkward, but the rest of your critiscisms sound more like opinions than reasoned arguments. There is a logic to the songwriting and although I would also agree BB is not prog-rock level (i never even considred it such) it does not mean that the sudden changes are "random cut-and-paste". There's a deifnite ebb-and-flow, tension/release so on and so forth going on. Lastly, the overlowing with ideas nature of the album is what i (and i'm sure most other fans) love most about it. It's not an undying masterpeice, but it does rock, and that's all i ask of it.
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 07:08:32 PM by Utica5:
 "it does rock, and that's all i ask of it." that sounds a little like an opinion rather than a reasoned argument, but that might just be me. this album is annoying. i was starting to think i was the only one
 
Posted 04/05/2005 - 09:05:33 PM by ashetler:
 I am unable to present a reasonable argument why I hate this album. The reason for this is because I have, from the first listening, found this album to be so sensationally horrid that I was debilitated from delving into the "finer points" of it. I would like to thank Mr. Powell for having the bravery to take on such a task.
 
Posted 04/06/2005 - 12:22:55 AM by arrrvee:
 oh come on...stop knocking this album. blueberry boat is ballast! just listen to it. i mean really listen to it. first use it as background music and once you get the hang of it listen to it more...stop criticizing the album just cause you got bored or wasn't hook on it at first spin. you just don't press play and wait for it to charm you. listen...
 
Posted 04/06/2005 - 05:04:52 AM by NickSouthall:
 Just for the record I really, really, really despise this record. I resent having paid money for it. But nonetheless, Mike does offer about the most level headed and thoughtful account of it that I've come across.
 
Posted 04/06/2005 - 10:20:03 AM by phuett:
 It seems like everybody is using "prog" in the "exceptional musicianship" sense, not in the "moving forward (progressing)" sense. I don't know about anybody else, but this sounds like something new to me. One of the reasons I love this album is that there really aren't any alternatives when I want to listen to a quirky, adventerous romp that is so densely orchestrated and contains some very appealing melodies.
 
Posted 04/06/2005 - 03:35:27 PM by hansel:
 As an album lover, I've come to notice there are three waves to ride in our modern bedroom criticism (or, office, as-it-were). There is the first wave: The profound love-in for anything left-field. During the second wave people are playing catch-up. A second waver is someone like me, who likes to let an album rest on the shelf before buying or listening. Personal viewpoints, history, meta-media criticism and the live experience undoubtedly shape the reception. The third wavers are the backlasherati. I welcome your scorn as undeniable proof that this record is a classic. Or else, why would you bother? I didn't care for Blueberry Boat on first, third or even fifth listen. I put it on my shelf to gather dust with its boring predecessor, Gallowsbird Bark. Sometime later, sitting at my desk, an unrecognized hook started pulling at my subconscious. It later revealed itself as Straight Street. Sitting on this album for almost a year, I can still play it backwards and forwards and never be bored. It still gets stuck in my head: how can that be a bad record? Chris Michaels is sticky, moving and amongst the best descriptions of what it feels like to be young and aimless in the new century. Spaniolated is worthy of a perfect seconds in pop meta-love-in. Musicianship: Attacking the musicianship on an indie band is absurd. Most people listen to indie music because it stands against the ridiculous principles of soulless studio machinations. The music is vibrant because of its immediacy. I love the solos on the record. I love the way the voice doesn't always fit. It sounds energetic and undeniably fun. I think this album is most culturally connected to the GBV aesthetic. No one complains about the number of ideas on a GBV record, with good reason too. Both bands hit way more than they miss. If I want musicianship, I'll listen to Jazz wankers. All in all this is a good piece and I'm glad it was made. It made me realize just how much I love this album. I think the main flaw in your article is that it comes far too soon. Albums need time to settle before any realistic criticism can be waged. In five years time we'll be able to judge this album and the devotion it takes to write this piece will definitely be necessitated. I think of the Byrds "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," it was ignored on release and yet it’s the only Byrds album worthy of the Deluxe treatment. My caveat here is clearly Blueberry Boat was not ignored. The statement is designed to remind that only time and influence are worthy judges of an album. PS: If you strangle Eleanor, I will hunt you down and torture you Reservoir Dogs style. (obvious joke).
 
Posted 04/06/2005 - 03:40:21 PM by kineticandroid:
 Like most records, the people are hate it are louder than the people who don't. This isn't to say that I dislike the record. I love it, although it hits me more on a scale of simple enjoyment. That's what I think people are missing. When I hear it, I'm not hearing pretentious or arty. I'm hearing off-the-wall, fun, grown adults who sound like they're reliving their childhood through psychadelic music. This sounds like it would have been so enjoyable to make; to add random burst of guitars and keyboards just because. Normally I would frown down upon "weirdness for weirdness sake." But the tone of this record and the content of the songs... it just works for me. But whatever. By the way, I'm right there with you JustinC-L.
 
Posted 04/06/2005 - 10:56:53 PM by KeithKawaii:
 Thoughtful and well written...
 
Posted 04/07/2005 - 11:38:15 AM by RavingLunatic:
 Whoa, Whoa! Aren't you on the wrong website, Keith Kawaii?
 
Posted 04/07/2005 - 02:31:46 PM by techn0p0pe:
 i couldn't agree more, sorry but the whole album to me sounded very, and i mean very intentionally planned, it sounded as if they tried very hard to not fit anything together, it does not sound like the songs were organic in any form, it just annoy's me, and believe me i tried to like it i really did. SOrry but this type of prententious crap is not good music.
 
Posted 04/07/2005 - 02:51:06 PM by hunky_dory:
 techn0p0pe, is there any album that isn't intentionally planned? These things don't just spring from the soil, you know. And to all you haters out there who think their lyrics and/or band name are childish, consider this line from Nella Larsen's 'Passing,' a landmark Harlem Renaissance novel dealing with race/class/sexuality as performative constructs: "The sun had gone from overhead, but the streets were still like fiery furnaces." This is an inconsequential passage, and serves as only a transition in the text, but I've never heard the phrase 'fiery furncaes' outside the contexts of this band and this book. Coincidence? Perhaps, but perhaps the Friedbergers are simply well-read, ambitious siblings who like to have a bit of fun from time to time.
 
Posted 04/07/2005 - 04:30:03 PM by mbloodyv:
 Who ever accused the band of having a childish name? And why would the fact that they MAY (it's a tenuous link) have read this novel make them well-read or ambitious?
 
Posted 04/07/2005 - 06:01:37 PM by hansel:
 Is pretentious the only crit you boardies can levy? At least the article is well-written and thought through. Bring yourselves up a couple notches.
 
Posted 04/07/2005 - 06:48:05 PM by hoboghost:
 "Furthermore, reading it as a metaphor or an allegory (or whatever other tricks you’ve got that turn shit to gold) is just a naïve and ridiculous form of critical coddling." To presume that simple lyrics cannot be read metaphorically would be to sap the playful double meanings out of the blues. "My Dog Was Lost" is a blues song.
 
Posted 04/07/2005 - 10:47:37 PM by d-dave:
 A factual tidbit re: the band's name, which some people seem to be confused about. It's taken from the biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Book of Daniel, Chapter 3). (Nella Larsen is alluding to this story in the bit from _Passing_ that hunky_dory quoted.) There you have it. Long live long songs and the inorganic.
 
Posted 04/07/2005 - 10:52:19 PM by techn0p0pe:
 hunkey_dorey what i mean is it seems all too contrived, kind of like we're going to make this really freaky non linear (because non linear is cool and post modern) random (also a cool phrase) album. Then the kids will like us cause were differet. I dont think them without talent, or stupid, i just think this album was made to be random just for its own sake not for the sake of good music. Honestly i like non linear and random, when it feels real and honest and for the sake of the music. I think Beck and Bjork and even Conner make random sound great, Of montreal have made a career of it, but thier music stays within the context of the song they are in, it fits. So sorry this is NOT music's next evolution, just some kids trying too hard.
 
Posted 04/08/2005 - 12:06:38 AM by KeithKawaii:
 RavingLunatic: Shhhhh!!
 
Posted 04/09/2005 - 07:58:17 PM by timellison:
 I don't know why you wouldn't think that wanting to write suite-style pieces a la the Who's "A Quick One" and "Rael" is not "real and honest." This was their stated inspiration for these songs. Maybe you think those Who songs are just a bunch of random stuff put together, too. If not -- and if you think the Who's mini-rock opera compositions were better than the Fiery Furnaces' somehow -- you would have to present some argument as to how the Who's songs work better.
 
Posted 04/10/2005 - 12:18:02 AM by timellison:
 First sentence should read: "I don't know why you would think that wanting to write suite-style pieces a la the Who's "A Quick One" and "Rael" is not "real and honest."
 
Posted 04/11/2005 - 04:02:16 PM by garlad1:
 I like the girls voice, some of the instrumention was very good and original, and the Moon-esque drumming was outstanding. You just gotta sift through it, or go along for the ride. Not a classic, but definitely not a waste of time either.
 
Posted 04/12/2005 - 11:05:11 PM by pbjnecrome:
 For me, I can say that I enjoy Eleanor's unique voice and delivery in the same way that I can enjoy Patti Smith's. Granted, they are two vastly different moods being portrayed, but I can see similarities. Not smooth, not necessaily flowing, sometimes awkward, but nearly always enjoyable, even if only after a few spins.
 
Posted 04/20/2005 - 11:12:26 AM by phuett:
 I have a problem with these negative On Second Thought articles. The only article in this series (though I probably haven't read all of them) that I thought was worthwhile was Ian Mathers' re-review of The Constantines' album. This article feels very mean-spirited and unnecessary. This is not a review; this is an attack. The original review told readers what the person thought of the album, whereas this article feels incredibly didactic; I feel like Mike Powell is scolding me for loving this album and telling me why my opinion is wrong. Your opinion is no less valid than mine or anybody else who happens to have one concerning this album. What I really don't understand is the reason for this article to begin with; why couldn't you let people read the reviews, check out the album and trust said people to formulate their own opinions about the album? All it does is turn into a troll-fest with everybody yelling, "yeah! I hate this album, too!"...and to what end? What is gained by having those who hate this album sitting around complaining about it and the rest of us feeling alienated? I still love this album for many of the same reasons you dislike it. At least the review had the positive aspect of informing people about an album they may not have heard of before and giving a description of what it was all about. This does nothing; this is useless.
 
Posted 04/20/2005 - 01:04:48 PM by hoboghost:
 Well, in William Blake's words "Opposition is true friendship."
 
Posted 04/20/2005 - 06:09:08 PM by grinpere:
 So Mike Powell didn't like the album because it had too many words... Though I am a late-comer to, and lover of FF's BB (I'm with you "hansel"), I still have to agree with some of Powell's more damning points about the album...third grade homework verse lyrics, no doubt. Charming at first, and beginning to wear on my nerves in some cases, they are. But...are they consistent with the playfulness (those keyboards do make some "crazy sounds") of the songs' erratic, energetic, serendipitous, sometimes seemingly arbitrary, and even perfunctory composition? Yes. And are all the characteristics above as consistent with classical and contemporary opera, as well as the so-called operatic songs by the Who? Yeah: listen to Gotterdammerung and tell me some of that music can't go, or that segments don't sound inconsistent with the bars that follow? Actually, name some moments when transitions aren't jarring in the greatest compositions, I mean all compositions? If you feel such things are unnatural, then perhaps you don't leave your house much; and, if that is the case, you are having a natural reaction to a form that "aspires" to be consistent with experiences that you, for better or for worse, have not had. The fact is that not one unsatisfying piece of the music can go, that it is always organic, comparisons to Brian Wilsons' experimental harmonics aside, and that it all actually fits because the composer made it fit, even if he did so in a violent way. Yes, technology has facilitated this violence, as well as the overproduction of hokey pop music, (the list of websites that publish inane music reviews and commentary, for example, are as excessive, to be consistent with this fact.) So that said, is it pretentious to let your software do the work for you in the 21st century, so that a musician or two can lock themselves away for a week with a stash of crank, and sweat out some over-extended, windy pop music collages which clash with the rash of redundant, reconstituted backbeat tripe flooding record stores? Both BB and this website may be a vain attempt at using technology to bolster our flacid egos, and allow us to think ourselves something we are not: musicians and music critics. Which is better? Standing in the waft of the BO of someone living my American dream, or paying their bills so that I can hate them. I don't know. It is an ethics debate, really. And have FF compared themselves to the Who or Prog rock? (Powell looks a little too closely at what the press has written about this band.)It would be as fair to compare them to the collage-like and jarring Mr. Bungle. Even though, from the first track on the album, FF, like Bungle, are not to be taken seriously, though we can appreciate the creative energy (and, let's face it, labor)that went into the tracks. In both cases, why would someone even think to admire or not admire these bands, hate or love them? What were you hoping to find after the crappy opening to "Quay Cur." FFs are to be kind of squinted and winced at...I thought of The Residents, and still do. And I hate The Residents, but I love The Residents. And though Powell's review was exceptionally even-handed, though oversaturated with sterile analytical commentary, I have to take a shot at Powell for condemning the band's reach and ambition, while ending with a gross nugget like: "It’s like a kid in a candy store whose eyes are bigger than their stomach; instead of just picking one candy bar that they really like (or just really want to try), they take indiscriminate bites out of everything, ultimately just stuffing their face and getting terribly, terribly sick." My God what fetid hot air. Please do not reach or aspire to metaphor when your talents obviously lie elsewhere, Mr. Powell. And, before critiquing the fine points of music, perhaps you should revise the fine points of your grammar (please review above if you did not catch it...).