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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Fiery Furnaces
Blueberry Boat
Rough Trade Records

Rating: 10/10 ?


October 1, 2004
Since he has such a prolific touring schedule, Ted Leo invariably makes his way to the town where I live, no matter how many times I move or how much of a cow town my new locale is. Aside from the obvious hand-clappin' and foot-stompin' good times of his performances, Leo's visits often have fringe benefits; the day after one of his performances in the twin cities of Champaign-Urbana I happened upon a bag of marijuana lying in the grass along a sidewalk downtown.

It was at another Ted Leo show, this time in sleepy Davis, California, that I made the acquaintance of a pretty dark-haired girl from New York-via-Chicago, whose brother had briefly lived in Champaign. It turned out that the young lady, who looked like a sultry update of Popeye's beloved Olive, was named Eleanor and that her brother Matthew, who looked like one of those socio-culturally promiscuous prep-schoolers from The Ice Storm, played with her in a band called the Fiery Furnaces. As luck would have it, the Friedberger siblings' band was the band performing in support of Ted Leo and his Rx/Pharmacists that very evening.

Ted Leo aside, the Fiery Furnaces quietly blew me away that foggy California winter evening. Their set, which was a bulky, blaring patchwork entity all its own, consisted of jumbled and twisted and otherwise inappropriately treated segments of the band's recorded material. Basically, what took the form of distinct songs and a set sequence on their album was scrambled into a thirty minute medley of improvisation on stage. Of course I didn't realize that until later when I had time to digest Gallowsbird's Bark alone at home. There at the show, in the immediacy of the whatever happens happens moment of NOW, I was left dumbfounded, trying to figure out how the Furnaces had zip-tied so many incongruous pieces of music together into one long jam and, more perplexingly, why it all worked so well.

After their performance Eleanor would remark, in only the way in which a budding rock star could, that the band had been a mess and that she was glad I had liked them, in spite of the fact that they really hadn't played all that well. And of course she could say that, since their entire set was, by design, a mess to anyone who knew the songs or didn't. Like a Pollock painting (man, how that analogy comes in handy in music reviews!), the Fiery Furnace's art was irrefutably a mess. But it was, at the same time, undeniably beautiful.

With their new album, Blueberry Boat, I have been forced to scratch everything I knew (or thought I knew) about the Fiery Furnaces from my experiences with Gallowsbird's Bark. This, quite simply, is an entirely different beast, although it does sport some of the same musty, moth-eaten wardrobe.

One of the obvious similarities between Blueberry Boat and Gallowsbird's Bark is the lyrical obsession with specific names, places, feelings and medical conditions; three dozen donuts, beach towels and asthma attacks from Bark having been replaced with Hyundai, OxyContin, and Madagascar on Boat. Beyond the general tints and hues, however, the Furnaces have turned up the songwriting heat to a previously unobtainable level, baking the playful church lady sing-a-longs of their previous album into a theatrical Who-inspired quirk opera.

The album's lengthy opener, the 10+ minute "Quay Cur," is meant to lay down the Fiery Furnaces' whimsical gauntlet, organs blaring all around the freewheeling melody, and from then on there is no going back. The entirety of Blueberry Boat, the title track of which is the recounting of a bumbling Blueberry Boat captain whose vessel has been pirated, is a beautiful cacophony. Like its predecessor, Blueberry Boat is a bizarre and almost psychedelic tiling of mismatched elements made cohesive through sheer wit and confidence. This time around, however, the Furnaces rely more on the overt use of modern conveniences such as drum machines, laptops and synthesizers than on the dusty basement family jam instruments of the past. The result is an atmosphere that is more of a cold futuristic fun house than a hot, smoky garage. The scenery may have shifted, but the exuberance with which the Furnaces lick their whimsical sonic ice cream cone hasn't, and that, more than anything, is what makes Blueberry Boat one of the best albums in recent memory.

I guess deep down I've been sort of infatuated with Eleanor Friedberger (and, to a lesser and completely plutonic extent, her brother) since the first time I heard the Furnaces back in California, and Blueberry Boat doesn't really change that. Instead, it deepens the infatuation.

The Friedberger duo's music is so captivating that the speakers almost ooze with the album's magnetism, and Eleanor's lyrics are wrought with a literary deftness that gives the songs an immediate intimacy. And I mean, hey, I have asthma, I'm going kayaking in Madagascar next year, my wife used to drive a Hyundai, and I ate three (sadly, not three dozen) donuts just this weekend in the house of a guy who was zoning out from his daily dose of OxyContin. I'm not making this up; its the truth, and Eleanor and I obviously have some sort of cosmic bond.

Now, in the wake of Blueberry Boat, I may be married and in love with another, and Eleanor may be the next Janis Joplin or something, but its okay that we can't be together because nothing can keep me and her new album apart. We're already too deep in love.

Reviewed by Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other reviews by Eric J Herboth

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