By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
At 41 minutes, The Fiery Furnaces EP is less a short and sweet story than a novella of literary ruminations. Eleanor's (and, less often, Matthew's) words are sharp and vivid, describing distinct smells and tastes, even as they happily tip over into absurdity. On "Smelling Cigarettes," she tells of walking around drunk as "the sleet scalds my sight, stunned I stayed put and a billboard truck runs over my foot." As her narrative hurtles forward in short, fragmented sentences, the music shifts abruptly, from an opaque piano lick, to a shuffling bass/drum rockabilly beat, to a full-on band, only to suddenly halt with a singular piano key, looping over and over again. "Don't you hurry-worry with me," she ends.
Such knotty ambitions are dependent on the strength of The Fiery Furnaces' songs. Some of the choruses seem happenstance, while other songs have none at all, leaving the listener to tune in or out on little more than the quality of the duo's tales. Even these vary widely. Some songs, such as the aforementioned "Smelling Cigarettes," have a clear narrative, while others are as externally nonsensical as a Wu-Tang Clan rhyme. "You can talk me to the bank," sings Eleanor on "Cousin Chris," then she and her brother add in unison, "Prop prince prize proof prize-proof, pry pray."
For all its vacillations, The Fiery Furnaces EP confirms the Friedbergers' growing reputation as one of the most challenging groups in popular music. While other indie bands, from the Arcade Fire to Marah, seek to resurrect Eighties sports rock with their throaty anthems and hamfisted hooks, The Fiery Furnaces breathe hot and cool, spinning clear-cut melodies subtly undermined by a restless lyrical imagination. They are frustrating and exhilarating, disappointing and inspiring, eluding cursory judgments.