The Fiery Furnaces are an indie pop duo made up of a brother and sister from the city. Sister Eleanor sings like Janice Joplin’s ghost and play’s guitar like a drugged up Jack White from Montreal, while Brother Matthew shreds the neck like a hairy, scary monster with a Phase Shifter. Eleanor sings about nomadic life and screwed up relationships in her strong yet homey voice while Matthew accents each notes with his whimsical synthesizer and percussion powers to a result that is as funky as it is ground and hilarious. The band’s debut album Gallowsbird’s Bark often gets compared to the White Stripes, but it surpasses the color coded ex-spouses on almost every occasion (as far as songwriting goes) with its blend of Soul, blues rock and experimental indie. Even to a seasoned listener the band can at times seem more like a Psychedelic classic rock band then a 2000’s indie act, with chunky effected guitars and blues influences drizzled over every portion of the band’s delicious sound.
But Fiery Furnaces are in doubt a 2000’s indie act, using their debut album, Gallowsbird’s Bark as a platform for their anything-but-epic mixing of the decade’s fascination with post-punk and the classic sounds of Hendrix and The Rolling Stones (which would eventually develop into a whimsical form of indie pop). The de-composing pop of tunes like Bow Wow is perhaps one of my favorite examples of this albums ability to take something tight and cute and turn it into a disjointed, fantastic bit of noise. As the song goes on, with slight electronic workings, little drummer boy rat a tat tats and tinkering piano, it begins to fall apart, slowly, but surely. Synthesizers fall out of place, drums fall out of time and by the end of the song it begins to sound like someone dropped a heavily reverbed piano on the site of a toy soldier war.
Unfortunately Fiery Furnaces suffer the same fate as many an indie pop group. Their songs and fun, creative and interesting, but lack the energy and diversity to make a whole album amazing. Though the second half of the CD is most likely the best work on the record songs start to get tired from about the halfway point. Maybe it’s just the way I am, but the happier the music gets (no matter how screwed up the lyrics are) I keep hoping for it to fall. What this album needs, more than anything, is a depressing indie ballad. The White Stripes got that, and maybe that’s why I rate their CDs so high, but Fiery Furnaces just step over this crucial notion. Eleanor’s powerful, warbling vocals are probably my favorite part of the CD, but even they lose their muster after a short time. The CD is just too long for its own good. At least this is how it is until the last songs of the record. The album ends with the powerful and moving trio of Tropical Ice-Land, Rub-Alcohol Blues and We Got Back the Plagues. The combination of indie pop, blues and freak folk is truly a gift from god, making a more satisfying team than any good cop, bad cop scene ever
. They make a beautiful ending, but even so, they can’t quite bring the album up any higher for me.
But though this may be the case, Fiery Furnaces’ Sleater-Kinney meets The Fall meets Jefferson Airplane instrumentation is one of the coolest I’ve heard come out of the Garage Rock scene. No matter if the album lacks in depressing ballad type material, the songs all do sound different. Some have a boot, scoot and loot country type feel and others have a fun “toytronica” feel, full of descending keyboards, electronic beats and atmospheric guitar playing. Many songs are also spiced up with some peculiarly vintage piano lines, some having influences that go as far back as Wild West piano bars. Some of the Furnace’s piano lines would be as comfortable in a Pixies song as they would in an old pre-war film strip. And does Eleanor’s voice add to the songs? Do bears *** in the woods? Eleanor’s cute, but menacing warble brings a light to the most bluesy guitar riffs and puts a happy spin on all her darkest and most non-sensical lyrics. Think of it a Serial Killer reciting Dr. Suess, but the complete opposite effect.
All in all this was the CD that would eventually bring the Fiery Furnaces to surreal rock majesty, an album full of lo-fi indie rock, flowing lyrical poetry and danceable beats. The record’s over all effect is wondrous and fun, but with the added beauty of those last few tracks. I love all of the tracks on this record, but their order gets a bit over/underwhelming so for that fact I give this record an excellent 4/5.