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There are few things in life as exhilarating as a new album by The Fiery Furnaces. Establishing themselves as one of rock music's most consistently engaging, exciting and thought-provoking bands, The Fiery Furnaces made up of core brothersister duo Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger are well-versed in creating an album that manages to balance melody, originality, and a seemingly endless arsenal of instrumental ideas. Since their debut, Gallowbird's Bark, was released in 2003, The Fiery Furnaces have challenged the notion of what makes a song, weaving aural fragments into tenminute- long opuses that take any number of melodic turns. Their songs often transcend categories redefining the pop song through their rapidly changing tempos and inventive sound selections- almost as quickly as Eleanor can spit out proper noun-laced lyrical gems, often so otherworldly, that they border on magical realism. While the band's sixth LP, Widow City, is rooted in the Furnaces' aesthetic of challenging conventional notions of timing and song structure, the record is absolutely unlike any other LP in their expansive and brilliant repertoire. In fact, Widow City, their first for Chicago's renowned Thrill Jockey Records, features some of the finest, catchiest Furnaces compositions to date. We'd be up for putting money on it if you don't agree.
On their fifth full length (and first for indie stalwarts Thrill Jockey), Fiery Furnaces have finally made an album that reconciles their need to make literate, strangely fashioned art-pop with their pummeling and super rocked-out live shows. It's tempting to wish that at least a few of these puzzling tunes could have fewer parts and to concentrate on the pleasant melodic elements more, or maybe just not switch back and forth between the piano-based songs and the guitar-based ones. But that's a bit like showing up at a MENSA party and complaining that folks are using too many big words; baroque, over-fashioned, and over-thought post-modern pop is what this duo does. On Widow City, the good-looking brother-sister team does it better than they ever have. This record's delightful and wholly original; no one else could possibly have made it. Reveling in a playground based on distorted riffs and deep space synths from the era of "album rock," their distended sounds swim about like hundreds of liberated sea monkeys. --Mike McGonigal
Top Customer Reviews
And their sixth full-length album "Widow City" weaves together music-hall, electronic pop, and a twisted, colourful brand of rock'n'roll. It's more angular and jagged than anything they've done before, like a hard-rock band that took acid in a children's museum.
It opens with sharp drums and a tight, sputtery riff. For one horrible moment it sounds like they've abandoned their signature sound for more "typical" rock music...
.... then the melody fills with piano, flute, keyboard and sharp thickets of synth, and you know they haven't lost their touch, or their electro-music-hall trappings. It's a wonderfully dark pop song, especially when Eleanor Friedberger turns cynical about a court's decision ("We already know/there ain't no suspense/That the Philadelphia Grand Jury strings me up").
The songs that follow are just as dense, intense and strange: gurgling electropop, thundering rock clouds, fuzzy fast pop melodies, drum explosions, quirky experimentals, bouncy schizophrenic pop melodies, driving powerpop with circus edges, and roiling combinations of electro-rock and psychedelic music-hall -- basically, any and all combinations of their past work.
In fact, if "Widow City" has an overriding flaw, it's that it's almost TOO densely packed. Since the melodies are catchier, the Friedberger siblings apparently compensated by smashing loads of quirky instrumentation around typical rock rhythms. It's a lot to digest all at once -- try listening to it one or two songs at a time, to get the full effect.
Yeah, there are angular guitars, drums and basslines, especially in songs like "Clear Signal From Cairo" and "Navy Nurse.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Here I was hoping for a return to the more straightforward and rocking Gallowsbirds Bark/EP type of stuff, but this is even better... they've somehow managed to take all of the freaky weird prog stuff, meld it with some dirty guitar and raw banging drums, and produced this: an endless cornucopia of tweaked-out curio that walks the perfect line between out there and in there. The weirdness has now been taken to a whole new level. Like Michael Jackson surpasses the bad barrier to become good again, the Fiery Furnaces have surpassed the weird barrier to become... Im not sure, but it just seems a LOT more palatable now.
It probably has to do with the guitar: Bitter Tea suffered from a lack of it. They also seem to have gotten a better grip on song lengths: both Bitter Tea and Blueberry Boat suffered from songs that went on at least 2 or 3 minutes too long. The genre hopping is still intact, but it's way more fun this time around: at points, Widow City almost sounds like Ween cubed, complete with kooky slowed-down vocals (but less the overuse of backwards ones, thankfully).
One thing I disagree with that I've read in other reviews is that this album should be enjoyed in small doses. NO WAY! To me, this needs to be listened to in its entirety, preferably on a good set of headphones. The centerpiece as I hear it is "Navy Nurse", it builds up to that point, and then the chorus kicks in and it's pure bliss. Right there it just smacks you over the head how sweet this stuff is, and that's not to say that "Navy Nurse" is the best song... in fact, there really isn't a weak song to be found here.
My only complaint with Widow City is the way it ends. The abrupt ending doesn't work for me here.... a drawn out chord would have been better, allowing a few seconds to digest this aural feast.
I really like the EP album and Bluberry Boat a lot but this, I think the more I hear it sticks with me. They've found a wonderful new creative level and I hope they never stop making records cause I'll surely have to keep buying them, just like a tv show you just have to know where it's going, the same with them, I can't wait to see what they do next.