The Fiery Furnaces

Critical disdain for the Fiery Furnaces reached its apex last year, when the NYC-based brother-sister pair recorded and released Rehearsing My Choir, a twisty time's-outta-joint album — conceived with their grandmother — that rewards patience. The year prior, Blueberry Boat was assailed as unfocused, indigestible garbage. And now comes a Furnaces affair that deserves scorn and derision, this time for vastly different reasons. Previously, primary songsmith Matthew Friedberger — drawing from prog, blues, and rock — would forge Byzantine, entangled jungle gyms of guitar, piano, and synthesizer inside which Eleanor Friedberger endearingly swung her acrobatic vocals around from rung to rung to glowing rung. Tea's weakness lies in the Furnaces' wholesale stripping-down of their sound to a bare minimum of limpid melodic sap and (very often) backmasked singing. A constant lethargy also plagues the new tunes, as if the pair were exhausted after issuing and touring four records in less than three years. Near the end, the Friedbergers find something of a second wind — the snaking, burning-fuse slant guitar of "Police Sweater Blood Vow," the sub-Pink Floydian "Whistle Rhapsody" — but last-second magic can't rescue Tea from the scrapheap.

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Ray Cummings