Review Summary: Meet the new Fiery Furnaces.
With 2007’s Widow City
, it seemed that the Fiery Furnaces had finally gotten as normal as they could get. It was, finally, an album that didn’t signify a major change in direction and musical stylings for this brother-sister duo: it seemed that Matthew Friedberger, who composes all the music for the band, had finally let his ambitions waver a bit. Despite this, and despite Eleanor Friedberger again delivering another excellent performance, Widow City
ultimately was a minor disappointment: it was way too long and had basically no focus. Fans (or at least this one) yearned for a return to the classic days of complexity.
So it should come as no surprise that I’m Going Away
is the band’s poppiest and most accessible work to date: the Fiery Furnaces were never one to conform and do whatever seemed right
, and, despite whatever derision Widow City
received, the streamlined direction of this newest work is looking more and more like the best idea the band’s ever had. For one, the album’s excellent: these Brooklyn natives finally seem to be able to self-edit, and the songs here are free of all those complicated ideas that made the band’s previous albums so hard to get into; all that’s left is just the breezy, highly listenable melodic stuff. But leaving behind all the experimentation reveals a surprisingly pure and gimmick-free sound, one that doesn’t get lost in its own pretentions.
Despite its accessibility, I’m Going Away
never feels like the Fiery Furnaces are half-assing it for a wider fanbase. Instead, the album works like a gateway drug, introducing first-time listeners to the band’s quirks, and getting them prepared for their stranger material. For instance, there’s no better way to get used to Eleanor’s sprightly and near-pretentious lyrics---which are often delivered at an auctioneer’s pace---than to listen to “Keep Me in the Dark” or “Staring at the Steeple”, which feature her weird talents at their most irresistible. Each are also perfect summarizations of this new, more melodic Fiery Furnaces, filled with bluesy vocals, twinkly piano lines, distorted, Stones-light (Diet Stones?) riffs, and warm, sunny production: basically the perfect fodder for your newest summer mixtape.
That isn’t the extent of the highlights here, however: “Charmaine Champagne” is another of the band’s more accessible tracks, enjoyable from Matthew’s talk-box riffing to Eleanor’s energetic vocals and clever lyrics, describing the titular character as the type of bad girl that’s going to get her “folked up and fairly beat”. In normal person speak, that presumably means totally fucked up. “Cut the Cake” follows that raucous number appropriately; the smooth, soulful piano ballad acting as the woozy morning after. “Take Me Round Again” is notable for balancing these two sounds, transitioning from yearning, sobered verses to the more strident choruses, and the song’s more unconventional structure---choruses and verses duck in and out, and a sparse, minute-long guitar solo from Matt counts as one of the stranger sections on the album---harkens back to the Blueberry Boat
days, and also works as an excellent closer.
In short, I’m Going Away
finds the band embellishing on their debut, the criminally underrated Gallowsbird’s Bark
, which also found the band at their most melodic. But while that album got lost in the shuffle of neo-garage bands that were coming out of New York---possibly due to its more abrasive manner---I’m Going Away
will not be so easily forgotten: its blend of ornate indie pop, the jazzy blues of albums like In the Wee Small Hours
, and the classic sounds of the Rolling Stones and Hendrix is something distinctive, and is something that’s sure to leave a lasting impression.