-->
Music

The Fiery Furnaces: Blueberry Boat

Jason Korenkiewicz

The Fiery Furnaces

Blueberry Boat

Label: Rough Trade
US Release Date: 2004-07-13
UK Release Date: 2004-09-06
Amazon
iTunes

Somehow the Fiery Furnaces have been able to avoid the imbroglio facing other like-minded duos -- the daunting comparison to the charisma and musical muscle of a certain candy-striped couple hailing out of Detroit Rock City. Part of this is due to the fact that the Furnaces have carved out their own niche in the overcrowded world of rock and roll tandems. Their debut album Gallowsbird's Bark featured whimsical compositions by both members of the brother sister team, Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, that bore more than a passing resemblance to children's nursery rhymes. While Gallowsbird's Bark was an impressive and entertaining first effort, standing out from much of the recycled indie fare hitting the market, it provided no clues as to what would confront us with their second album. It is almost unfathomable to understand how the Fiery Furnaces made the jump from the pleasant pop of their first full-length to the unwieldy over-packed, but inspired 13 tracks that comprise the whole of Blueberry Boat.

One clue that they Freidberger's offer is their undying appreciation for mini-opera's like the Who's "A Quick One" and "Rael." The homage to the Who surfaces time and time again throughout the album with bombastic Moon-esque drumming ("Mason City"), the measured use of synthesizers and keyboards to accentuate a lyrical tale ("Quay Cur" and "Mason City") or the blitzkrieg of songwriting styles, melodies and hooks that attack the senses throughout the listening experience ("Bird Brain"). While there are some songs that are traditional in length, many of the songs on Blueberry Boat are upwards of seven minutes, which when digesting a flurry of ideas can almost induce nausea. This reaction is most evident on the three opening tracks. "Quay Cur" tops the ten-minute mark and along the way brutalizes the listener with a maelstrom of rhyming couplets, musical departures and a series of eye blink speed instrumental shifts. The fury and verve of this track is more akin to hardcore music than pop as it never allows breathing room in its aural attack. Both "Straight Street" and the opening minutes of the title track begin to chart a similar course, brimming with ideas and melodies, yet never becoming a fluid or consistent whole. The second third of the opus "Blueberry Boat" finds the duo finally finding their course. As a cacophony of Sgt. Pepper's proportions fades into a delicate piano line and Eleanor's sing song rhyming vocal lines the ship is suddenly righted. From this point on the album begins to use the charms of Gallowsbird's Bark and synthesizes their old winning moves with the new more expansive and experimental style that Boat was hoping to achieve.

Instead of feeling forced the songs begin to feel alive, embodied in the energy of the worthy performances merging with sharp and dynamic songwriting. The centerpiece of the album, "I Lost My Dog", finds the duo reaching for the stratosphere. Eleanor takes the listener on a vivid race through an imaginary town to find her abused dog. Rather than relying on the power of the Who's aforementioned works, "Dog" uses instrumentation and invention that owes a greatly to the Beatles' White Album, combining dirty electric and clean acoustic guitar leads, music box digitized drums and soaring keyboards. Suddenly the Furnaces are transformed, no longer a copycat brother/sister garage duo, but rather a twosome joined on a magical mystery tour searching within their own songs for some elusive originality or joy. After finding their dog, they take us on a McCartney style stroll through town ("Mason City"), merge folk writing with electro-pop recalling a more ramshackle Everything But the Girl ("Inspector Blancheflower"), take a page out of the Flaming Lips celestial playbook ("Spaniolated"), and dabble in pre-Soviet organ grinder folk ("1917"). This chaotic collection of themes and musical styles may sound daunting, and upon first listen it can be, but the voyage comes together in a way that is both exciting and pleasurable by the time you stumble down the gangplank of the Blueberry Boat and try to lose your sea legs.

Although the early part of Blueberry Boat is disjointed and difficult to absorb the album is still a triumph. While certain tracks don't work as well as they should, the effort is always present and the latter half of the album more than makes up for the early misses. In a music buying economy that routinely rewards mediocrity and mimicking by its artists, it is refreshing to find a group sincerely attempting to strive for something greater than the norm. Blueberry Boat is the sound of the Fiery Furnaces looking in the mirror at themselves and seeing someone else entirely, bringing back a sorely missed spirit of creativity and daring to indie rock.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image