This brother-sister duo balance melody, originality, and a seemingly endless arsenal of instrumental ideas. Their songs often transcend categories, redefining the pop song through rapidly changing tempos and inventive sound selections. This record, their first on Thrill Jockey, features some of the finest, catchiest Furnace compositions to date. Compelling, beautiful, strange, dense, and magical, "Widow City" is musical terrain entirely of the duo's making.
Review Written by David Adair
The queen of quirky couplets and the king of the rustic, rugged and stark accompaniments, siblings Eleanor and Mathew Freidberger AKA The Fiery Furnaces, have been victims of their own prolific song-writing tendencies. For example, the Chicago born pair could have toured the world and ate like royalty for a decade on the back of the bitter/sweet pop experiment of 2003's debut album 'Gallowbirds Bark'. Instead they chose to throw their energy into writing and recording the darker narrative and epics containing follow up 'Blueberry Boat', a year later.
The Fiery Furnaces seem to be on a mission to create their own dark, mysterious, adventurous and geographical referencing tunnel that is now insulated by five albums. By way of introduction to the continuing quirkiness, 'The Philadelphia Grand Jury' delivers a sparse, but biting and decisive vocal verdict that is emboldened by winding, rustic folk/blues backing. It is something that is often illuminated by the stark grand organ effects sporadically produced by Matthew himself, whose rustic touch, if anything, has emboldened over the years.
This thirteen track parade represents the kind of sound that would be produced by The Beatles had they continued evolving, as far as the musical adventure is concerned anyway. 'Clear Signal From Cairo', illuminates the oblique life view and wandering mind of these two Chicagoans. Such is the out there attitude of this guy and gal, even the twelve track format that many bands hug these days is rarely complied with. 'Widow City' is no exception to this, with sixteen tracks each having their own life and tilt that there is not a sign of a labouring lag.
For 'Restorative Beer' we see the pair and their now established backing band at their most conventional folk/blues/pop merging best and the catchy lyrics make this a possible single that even radio stations wouldn't grimace at; "I knew I wanna restore the beer, to take my mind off these tears."
It is towards the end of the album, through 'Cabaret Of The Seven Devils' and the mournful 'Pricked In The Heart' that Eleanor's ability to stammer her vocals provocatively is most prevalent. It enables her to get her tongue around the off-kilter, archaic terms that feature in their tantalising tales. Matthew's deft key dexterity coupled with his ear for the discordant conglomeration of rustic sounds emboldens the title track and shows a playful, experimental side. The well of woe-begotten tales and off-kilter instrumentalism, it seems, has hardly been skimmed.
The Fiery Furnaces are likely to continue to produce their alternative pop pearls until discerning musos decide they have had enough. Even that probably won't stop them, come to think of it.