erasing clouds

The Fiery Furnaces, Blueberry Boat

reviewed by erin hucke

Blueberry Boat, the epic sophomore album by brother/sister duo The Fiery Furnaces, opens with the cold, squishy beats of "Quay Cur." But midway through, the song changes into a shakin' guitar-based segment that recalls the general style of their raw and endearing debut, the critically-lauded Gallowsbird's Bark. But that familiar sound is fleeting; there's been a surprising and favorable progression in the band's musicmaking.

Other than the distinct shift in instrumentation, the most obvious change in the overall sound of the band is in the vocals. Where Gallowsbird's Bark primarily featured sister Eleanor Friedberger's singing, Blueberry Boat has her evenly splitting vocal duties with brother Matthew Friedberger, many times trading verses within a single song and sometimes layering their voices for increased dimension.

The erratic structure of Blueberry Boat mimics the band's energetic style of playing live: flip flopping from one song to another, sometimes without even finishing the whole song, returning later to repeat a couple of the segments and finish what was left unfinished - all without stops, pauses, song introductions or banter. My initial reaction to Blueberry Boat, like the performance, left me completely dumbfounded and captivated.

Blueberry Boat disorients with its weirdo electronic noises, optimistic gumdroppy happy notes and even danceable beats (really!). But a underlying base of piano, guitar and drums brings it all together. The album sails through 13 disparate (but seamless), confusing (but pleasing) tracks. Though with so many abrupt changes in genre and tempo, it's difficult to know when a song officially ends and another begins. The transitions between pieces aren't even really transitions, but entities themselves. It's a 76-minute collection of miniature songs strung together medley-style, slowing any attempts to become intimately familiar with this album tremendously.

It's in the indefinite "I've listened to this album ten times already and I still don't know what song comes next" phase that the Friedbergers' clever and colorful lyrics float to the surface piece by piece. Like the band's debut, much of the lyrical content is recalled in first person, where they turn small and ordinary stories into some of the most intriguing accounts. See the tension-rich conversation between brothers in "Chief Inspector Blancheflower":

"Michael is there something that you need to say to me?
Well I don't know how to tell you.
You can tell me anything that you want 'cept 'I started seeing Jenny.'
I started seeing Jenny.
My Jenny?
And he looked down at the floor.
You know damn well she ain't your Jenny no more."

They revel in the tiniest of details and spout vibrantly worded (and many times funny) rhymes.

"At dawn, I had a scotch / And made them switch off the porn / Cause there's nothing that's dirty / About the ocean in the morn." ("Blueberry Boat")

This is art rock without pretentiousness; The Fiery Furnaces are not afraid to be silly - and not simply silly to project a sense of indie-flavored irony, but really flat-out dopey silly.

"My baby's got a stick stuck out her beak / My baby takes a drink out of the leak / My baby's got a blue-green sweater / And a nest down by the creek / Plume bloom bloom blaby bloom / Cheep cheep beep bee-bee beep" ("Chris Michaels")

Though definitely not for the masses (even many open-minded listeners may be turned off by the album's complexity), the Friedberger siblings' unparalleled imagination makes Blueberry Boat one of the most challenging and innovative albums in recent memory.

Issue 25, July/August 2004

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