I know what you’re thinking. Another Fiery Furnaces record, another glowing review from another pompous critic whose opinion I shouldn’t care about. And I can’t say that I don’t sympathize. If Metacritic has taught us anything, it’s that one review sets the tone for the rest to follow and there are few surprises in this field. That, unfortunately, is the truth. But you have to bear with me a minute. Sometimes universal acclaim is deserved. Admit it, you loved that Arcade Fire record. And even you said that Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was the best album of 2002. But then again, chances are you haven’t listened to White Blood Cells in some time.
Okay, now I know what you’re going to say. But The Fiery Furnaces aren’t for everyone. Maybe they aren’t. They’re a bit whimsical for some people’s tastes, a little too close to prog and use a lot more quirky synth sounds than a “rock” band is supposed to. Well, suspend these assumptions for the time being and let’s examine the band’s latest, EP, a collection of singles and rarities collected between Gallowsbird’s Bark and Blueberry Boat. By these standards, the record shouldn’t be all that remarkable. But funny thing about The Fiery Furnaces, when they’re not working on a seventy-minute operetta of epic proportions, they’re writing amazing, bite-sized little pop songs.
Take the opening song, recent single “Single Again,” a titular play on words for the song chosen in lieu of one of their more “difficult” album tracks from Blueberry Boat. Though the intro is essentially a minute of swirling keyboards, the song is as simple and blues-based as it gets. Eleanor Friedberger sings a tale as frightening and gruesome as those of bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough and Robert Johnson, but from a woman’s (and victim’s) perspective: “He beat me, he banged me/He swore he would hang me/And I wish I was single again.” And did I mention it’s less than four minutes long?
But see, it only gets better from there. The Bowie-esque “Here Comes the Summer” comes next, as a minor-key piano chimes between acoustic guitar strums and wah-wah fueled riffs. Singing of anticipation of a romance, Friedberger is a dead ringer for Deborah Harry when she sings “I swear, I swear that I will do my part.” “Evergreen” is structured similarly, with a melody consisting mainly of acoustic guitar and piano, while the Matthew Freidberger-sung “Sing For Me” goes from magical lullaby to baroque pop stomp. Though you may have initially been turned off by the Furnaces’ picaresque flamboyance, it is exactly that flamboyance that is responsible for melodic brilliance such as this. For further evidence, just listen to the nearly Beck-like dance pop of “Tropical Ice-land” (a different version than that on Bark), the Who-at-the-carnival romp of “Duffer St. George” or the new wavey “Sweet Spots.”
Give it some time, not that you’ll need it. You’ll become quite taken with EP the instant you hear it. It’s a side of the Fiery Furnaces that you probably aren’t familiar with, though because of this collection’s shorter running time, you may actually find yourself longing for their more grandiose musical feats. Stranger things have happened, you know.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.