Matthew Friedberger has a complex and honestly, who can blame him? As the Y chromosome carrying member of the always quirky yet often arcane pop duo the Fiery Furnaces, Friedberger often gets overlooked despite his role as musical maestro/principal songwriter. This is to be expected as M. Friedberger is a) the half of the band that is not a model b) the half of the band that did not date the frontman of Franz Ferdinand and c) content to let his sister handle the bulk of the vocal duties. As the Furnaces gained steam in indie rags and critical circles from ocean to ocean however, one can’t help but think M. Friedberger began to get a bit irked at the attention he was individually not garnering. Granted the interviews may convey feelings of ambivalence towards limelight but when all is said and done, Eleanor certainly is Russell Hammond to his Jeff Bebe; her Stuart to his Stevie.
In an attempt to shed the stigma of the Eleanor and Matt show and to truly reveal to the world just how gosh darn creative (and important) he really is, Friedberger unleashes the ultimate in terms of artistic masturbation, the self-serving double album Winter Women/Holy Ghost Language School. With 29 songs, all told clocking in at over 109 minutes, the Friedberger journey often leaves the listener road weary, wondering aloud to anyone around, “are we there yet?”
Winter Women kicks off in familiar Furnaces style with the so close to being good, “Under the Hood at the Paradise Garage.” Middle Eastern inspired, bohemian beats congeal with tape loops and synth blips forming a tasteful and comfortably wrapped package. Two minutes in, Friedberger gets the worst of himself by dousing the already textured backdrop with laser flashes and infantile tinkering. In a way, the opening track sets the tone for the rest of Winter Women; a hit or miss theme that demonstrates thoroughly the maddening schizophrenia of our composer. There certainly are bright spots to be taken in. “Up the River” is a rare and charming track that fights through the insecure rubble and matches mouth organ novice with a refreshing hook. “Quick as Cupid” captures the best of the Freidberger sound complete with love lost lyrics and “Ruth v. Rachel” dabbles in similar accessories though with a more sinister spin of siblings who love to hate one another. Though it is unclear whether Matthew is Ruth or Rachel the point of course lies in the thinly veiled autobiography of it all.
Halfway through Winter Women the realization that M. Friedberger lacks the vocal presence Eleanor’s androgynous pipes provide becomes clear. The mystery now lies not in the music ahead but in how M. will pull off an entire other disc of material with a mumbled and painfully rushed narrative.
Holy Ghost Language School also known as the “less accessible” of the two discs establishes itself as such right off the bat. A poorly fingered, crackling blues riff straight from the basement of teenaged Jack White paired up with a smashed piano line mars the opener “Seventh Loop Highway” past the point of enjoyment. The hits just keep on comin’ with spoken word trainwrecks solidifed by fits of sporadic piano tinkling. The slightly more coherent track “Do you Prefer Blondes” eases the pain slightly before Freidberger delves back into his preposterous projection of low end, oddball “art” that comes to define the majority of Holy Ghost Language School.
In the end, Friedberger’s need to divide his talents into two separate and completely overblown entities is what makes this album so hard to finish, let alone digest. By stretching his tools so thin over so many tracks, he casts an even larger shadow over himself than Eleanor ever could. A good double album comes out once a decade and is achieved by combining the skills one has to offer, not separating them.
Fiery Furnaces – Rehearsing My Choir
Captain Beefheart – Doc at the Radar Station
Frank Zappa – Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III