The Fiery Furnaces are no ordinary band, as anyone who witnessed them supporting Franz Ferdinand last year will likely have noticed. They may have that very fashionable brother/sister duo combination going on but sound nothing like The White Stripes.
They’re from Chicago but have an eccentricity which could be described as English. They don’t always sing proper words. They pay little attention to carefully constructed rhyming couplets and often cram as many words as possible into one line. If they can’t think of a second line, they’ll often repeat the last one backwards (Tropical Iceland). And they laugh in the face of musical segues, plunging from one time signature to another as abruptly as on any early Genesis album.
And yet prog they are not – the scratchy pop of Tropical Iceland featured here (that’s the single, rather than album, version) is a ridiculously catchy and throwaway pop number. The proggy tendencies are symptomatic of Matt and Eleanor Friedberger‘s eccentricity rather than the desire to make overblown, epic records (although I suspect that ambition isn’t entirely absent). And when they get folky, they’re reminiscent of Stephen Malkmus‘s more obscure moments rather than Led Zeppelin.
EP is not a new album proper, but, as the title suggests, a collection of A- and B-sides mutually exclusive of the Furnaces’ first two albums, Gallowsbirds Bark and Blueberry Boat. Good for the fans who may not have been able to get hold of vinyl editions of the singles.
Quite often, collections of EP tracks and b-sides can prove worthy long players in their own right. Take The Beta Band‘s The Three EPs, which actually ended up being miles better than the band’s much-hyped debut, HotShots. The Furnaces’ EP is very much belongs in the ‘worthy’ pile, and alternates some of the band’s proper ‘pop’ moments along with some very fine b-sides.
For starters, it features new single Here Comes the Summer, a far more rounded effort than the lumpy former single and opening track Single Again. Cousin Chris and Smelling Cigarettes – B-sides from their first single Crystal Clear, demonstrate the complexity in both structure and arrangement, which the band are known for. All three tracks from the Single Again release are included, including the gorgeous Sing for Me, which will previously only have been heard by owners of the vinyl format of the single.
Duffer St George – a whimsical homage to a night out in Shoreditch and the morning after – is another vinyl-only release featured here, as is the slightly demented Sweet Spots (on the vinyl edition of Tropical Iceland), a Stereolab-esque monodrone track featuring curious samples of Eleanor Friedberger’s voice.
It should be stressed that the Fiery Furnaces are not to everyone’s taste. Quirky, capricious and often self-indulgent, there are a number of ‘difficult’ tracks which take a few listens to even make sense of. And there’s the nonsensical lyrics and wordplay, such as on final track Sullivan’s Social Slub, featuring lines such as “Mandy Motherwell mustered and mugged / Lucy Liverspots lied oh! and legged”.
Yet if you like your music a little kooky and are prepared to invest a bit of time and interest, then the Fiery Furnaces are worth investigating, and this album’s not a bad place to start.