The Fiery Furnaces
f you want cohesion, you should rarely bother with the Fiery Furnaces. If you cling to the need for music you can consume without stopping to pick your teeth a bit, you have no need for the siblings Friedberger. Of course, many of you know this already. Their landmark LP Blueberry Boat, Stylus’s number one album of last year, was also one of the annum’s most polarizing. Twinkling with feather-dusted imagery and non-sequitur storytelling, Blueberry Boat was an exercise in exhaustion, as thrilling and bloated and frustrating and completely mesmerizing as watching thirteen televisions at once. Still, at its end, you couldn’t help but start anew; with so much whimsy and charisma buried in every chalky school-rhyme, it always felt just that: new.
Well, there’s good news for those of you on the other side of the fence. If you had trouble digesting the tangled multi-part suites of BB, but still found the Friedbergers’ gifts worthy of keeping in your periphery, perhaps EP is the appetizer you need (and, yes, we can’t help but adore the cheeky irony in a band so immersed in their own love of language choosing such a bland title for the work). Comprised of ten songs climbing just past the forty-minute mark, the offering is a collection of singles and b-sides that’s as cohesive and poignant as most bands’ three-year opus.
Opening with a three-song mini-suite, the Furnaces waste no time in needle-pricking your senses. “Single Again” saunters out on blubbery synth squelches before its funky rhythm sets the bottom. Like much of their material, the keyboards dominate the soundscape, which is a-flame in squalid musicianship and wholesome frolic. Its peculiarly arch tale of abuse and escape conflicts perfectly with its campy, carnivalesque tingle, an effort in juxtaposition only the FF can pull off.
From that opening hustle, EP glides into “Here Comes the Summer,” a nostalgic jaunt dangled in TV-interference synth lines and a Clockwork Orange color scheme. The melody turns itself inside out, limber with imagery like The Wizard of Oz dipped in cold bleach and shown against a tacky Persian rug. Full of static and misdrawn lines, its dreamy incantations give out to the gorgeous tech-withered ballad, “Evergreen,” one of the band’s most immediately compelling songs yet. Eleanor plays Zoloft-lifted Sylvia Plath and drops entreaties like “I’d dab off my tears with my favorite pine cone” and “I would tend to my bees / Sell honey on the road / Every fall in the wet / Watching lorries take their load.” She brings herself down off the stage for a moment, and the song’s sickly-sour melody smells of peaches fading bronze in autumn’s turn. A love-song withered by heartache and a season’s passing, Eleanor’s Victorian voicing matches the pitch of its forlorn beauty.
The alternate version of Gallowsbird Bark’s “Tropical Ice-land” sees the band flaunting another Brady Bunch synth line and lock-down beat. They unleash themselves into fits of frenzy and bleary carelessness again, only slowing down mid-song for a quick piano-pounding. Their restless creativity is as evident here in their re-make as it is in most of their original creations, and the song feels more recreated than revisited. Certainly, it’s one thing to sound fresh with unreleased material, but to accomplish the same in a song heard hundreds of times across a summer is perhaps more laudable.
Of course, it’s this talent for surprising twists and overhauls that makes the band so singular in today’s pop landscape. After just under a minute and a half of “Cousin Chris,” for example, the track splits itself open into a ragged psych field trip, lost in cascading funk and absurd post-neo-con glare. For just a moment, you’re riding a jumpy bus on a Tuesday morning. School is well behind you, out of sight, and you’re too short to see your teacher through the brown Naugahyde in front of you. The mud on the hem of your school-new blue jeans looks like pudding splatters, and the gum-haired school-brat wiping his feet on your seat-back only feeds your imagination. You’re here for a while. You have the permission slip to prove it. Shit, yes. Fiery Furnaces, you trace our collective memory lapses. Tickle us with your peach-fuzz escapism again soon, won’t you?