The Fiery Furnaces | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Fiery Furnaces

Blueberry Boat
Rough Trade

Fiery Furnaces rumors which turn out to be true: Start Blueberry Boat at the exact moment that The Wizard of Oz clicks into Technicolor, and the album plays as a perfect-fit soundtrack. Take the first letter of every other line from every other song on Blueberry Boat and it maps out the cabbalistic number for an ancient, forgotten word for "genesis." Joyce's Ulysses, Blueberry Boat and The Who's A Quick One each contain references to this number, which must not be named directly. Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, the brother and sister who comprise The Fiery Furnaces, are actually husband and wife.


Just kidding - that last one's not true.


In Blueberry Boat, The Fiery Furnaces have created the kind of album one can really make only once in a band's lifetime: A milestone of pretentiousness raised as a semaphore warning to critics of the world, a warning against complacency. It's a critical mass of musical and lyrical signals, codes and buried treasures that might be worth excavating, if you're not too lazy to get out the pickax. Summon up the rollicking 10-minute sea-changes of "Quay Cur" or the winding alleyway scamper of "Straight Street" and, within two tracks of starting Blueberry Boat, you've been halfway around the world in three different languages. (That's English, Inuit and Fiery Furnace.) Overblasted IDM beats, strum-and-hum acoustic folkiness, lyrical burrs clinging to your mind like pestering cultural memories, and all before even reaching the title track. The fact of the matter is that this might very well be the future of popular music as we know it.


But if that's true, do we want to simply quit buying music? Because the psych-ward story songs on Blueberry Boat may be excellent prose poems or part-insightful, part-hilarious snippets of overheard cultures and conversations. But even with so many contradictions of the normal trappings of operatic concept rock, The Fiery Furnaces have made something that floats as much out of drowned-man bloating as shipbuilding finesse and technical detail. There are few lighter-fist guitars or spinning-kit drums on Blueberry Boat (though when there are, as on the first bits of "Chris Michaels," it's pretty freakin' good), and a lot of tinkling pianos and warbling twee synths. Yet this is a record that begs for lower-case roman numerals dividing up songs, and artwork laden with Hieronymus Bosch references, chock-a-block as it is with rhythmic and melodic 180s, with pieces stopping on a dime and becoming an entirely new song for a few minutes. It's rock like Irish weather: "Don't like it? Hang on one second ..."


And the lyrics: Isn't there a moratorium on forced rhymes and purposeful, cult-status-begging obfuscation? Well, apparently not. The result is an assortment of unlovely verse and half-songs nailed together into a cloudy vagueness of geeky prog-poems. The "what-if-Yes-had-had-Google," "name-your-blog-after-it" type stuff that Ween could probably make fun of fairly effectively.


You'd probably think at this point that I don't like Blueberry Boat. But if so, you've missed an important point: I, too, have spelt out, in this review, the cabbalistic number for an ancient, forgotten word for "genesis." I, too, have found that, "It's sad and it's cold at the bottom of the sea / but at least I got my blueberries with me." The musical ocean of the 21st-century Western world is deep and slimy, and a limey's gotta cling onto whatever snippets of beauty one can find, even if they're not songs but time markers: "3:35 to 6:42 on 'Chief Inspector Blancheflower' is one of the best passages in indie music this year so far!" If you've got to dig a little to translate "Quay Cur" from the Inuit, given the alternatives, let's dig and dig.


So what if so much of The Fiery Furnaces' depth is in the Use of Commas to Delineate Political Anger in Flann O'Brien school of grad-student thesis geekery. Grad-student geekery may be the antithesis of populist popular music, but it can be pretty funny, a mighty enjoyable mind-maze on a long, cold Northeastern night, and perhaps even capable of producing a blueberry or two when you're feeling a little bit on the bottom of the sea.

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