Agony Shorthand

Friday, October 08, 2004

Right, I know I'm one CD behind in reviewing this debut release from late 2003, rather than the FIERY FURNACES' new CD "Blueberry Boat" . In these wild, half-crazed, past 96 hours I've played both discs over, and over, and over again to the point of obsession, and I feel I'm better acquainted and ready to impart a verdict on their first one, simply because it was the first one I heard and fell down over. The verdict is overwhelmingly rapturous. This is my "new favorite band", supplanting MODEY LEMON, who supplanted the A-FRAMES, who supplanted NUMBERS, who supplanted, I don't know, The Stooges? The Fiery Furnaces sound nothing like any of these bands, and they were fully off my radar screen during a year they leapt onto everyone else's, simply because I couldn't get past the overwhelming hype-ometer on them. I've bemoaned my own built-in bias in this regard before, yet when mainstream pundits and weekly alternapapers declare this indie band or that indie band the hot new thing (e.g. Yeah Yeah Yeahs or other such dreck), I usually clock myself out & wait for a real recommendation from someone I can trust. Like from you, for instance, or in this case, from Music Chamber and from Jon Behar.

Anyway, forget how I came here -- the Fiery Furnaces are a crazy distillation of 1974 East Village loft-era PATTI SMITH, the Velvet Underground, and a mixed-up broth that pours in bombastic rock opera, angular 80s new wave, garage punk, and weird-ass 60s psychedelia a la OS MUTANTES. On "Gallowsbird's Bark" the brew is much less heady and far-reaching than it is on the potentially off-putting but ultimately rewarding new one. The first few times I heard the debut, all I could think about was Lenny Kaye banging out aggressive rock music on a lonely piano behind a strident and sultry Patti Smith, with Robert Mapplethorpe slumped in the corner all beaned up on Quaaludes. Fiery Furnaces vocalist Eleanor Friedberger has a deep and cool vocal delivery that would sound knockout-great in front of just about any music, but her brother Matt, who plays almost all the wacked-out instrumentation behind her, has fashioned an incredible set of tunes that allow her to let loose a crafty torrent of verbiage like some stream-of-consciousness mynah bird. And if there's a Patti Smith TV biopic anytime soon, I'm nominating Eleanor to play the lead -- she even looks the part. But this pair have done something on "Gallowsbird's Park" that just doesn't happen that much anymore. They've created a near-perfect musical landscape of chaos and joy on their first try, and put out a record that has not one single mediocre track. I mean it -- from the screeching slide-heavy first number "South is Only a Home" to the rollicking, piano-driven "Inca Rag/Name Game" to the complex pop sugar of "Tropical Ice-Land", this pair have got a set of pre-programmed creative genes to be very, very envious of (Mom must be pretty fuckin' proud!). You just know that now that they've arrived, they're going to be a longtime force to be reckoned with. Though they're threatening to put out something like four new CDs next year, which is a bad idea no matter who comes up with it, you gotta figure based on the evidence that they're at least capable of four really, really good ones. They're in the midst of a US tour now, and most of the time I find out that a band's worth checking out roughly one weekend after they've blown through my town. This time I got to them before they got to me & I'm seeing them next week. Report forthcoming. The Fiery Furnaces! My "new favorite band"!