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The Fiery Furnaces


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Alternative beautiful & fierce evocative/eclectic experimental rock

Status:

Most recent release, I'm Going Away (2009)

See also:

Wikipedia's entry on The Fiery Furnaces

Both also record solo: Eleanor Friedberger's site and her Ectophiles' Guide page; Wikipedia's entry on Eleanor Friedberger; Wikipedia's entry on Matthew Friedberger

Comparisons:

I can't think of any, though there are lots of blues, experimental, etc. influences in their music

Covers/own material:

Own, some adapted lyrics

General comments:

The Fiery Furnaces are siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger. Eleanor sings, and Matthew puts together all the elements that make their sound. It's wildly idiosyncratic, energetic, frequently over-the-top, full of hooks and experiments, lots of talking, singing, and talking/singing. Eleanor has a lovely, versatile, evocative voice. I highly recommend them if you're looking for something quirky and different. Each album has quite a different personality, too. (Neile)

Comments about live performance:

I've heard that their performances aren't always great, but the in-store I went to was great, and I've heard only heard good things from close friends have gone to hear them multiple times. I would recommend giving them a chance; it's unlikely you'll be bored. (Neile)

I saw them at the Quart festival and they are way fun live. I really enjoyed their show, though it was a bit short. (7/04, onealien@mo.himolde.no)

Recommended first album:

Gallowsbird's Bark is probably the best place to start as it's the most immediately catchy; otherwise Bitter Tea is also great.

Recordings:


Gallowsbird's Bark

Release info:

2003—Rough Trade—06076 83226-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Eleanor Friedberger—vocals
Matthew Friedberger—other instruments

Guest artists:

Ryan Sawyer—drums

Produced by:

Matthew Friedberger

Comments:

I find this utterly compelling. One of the top discs of the year. It's a mix of strange and wonderful noises with terrific song hooks and Eleanor Friedberger's powerful and charming voice. Lots of energy and a unique sound. You can find lots of influences in their work but it becomes something quirky and entirely their own. (Neile)

Blueberry Boat

Release info:

2004—Rough Trade—06076-83239-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Eleanor Friedberger—vocals
Matthew Friedberger—other instruments

Guest artists:

Matthew Friedberger

Produced by:

Matthew Friedberger

Comments:

Could people more familiar with the Fiery Furnaces let me know if their new one is one of those "don't start here" cds that I keep picking up on? So far, all I can hear is the White Stripes, Radiohead and, er, the Muppets put through a blender, and while the combination sounds irresistable to some, I'm sure, I have yet to get all the way through the album. Mind you, it is very long. As an old progrock fan, I have a tolerance for songs that stretch the 10 minute mark. Unfortunately, this stretched my tolerance with its deadpan lack of any emotional commitment and its rambling, repetitive tunes. Maybe I'm getting old... (adamk@zoom.co.uk)

Blueberry Boat is all about complicated song structures, so it's not something you can "get" on the first couple of listens. I've been listening to it since it first was released and it has been growing on me incrementally. Personally, I think it's brilliant.
     I don't like White Stripes (or Radiohead, really, though I do kind of like their most recent one—but with the song structures in Blueberry Boat I can see where you're coming from with the comparison) so to me Fiery Furnaces just sounds like Fiery Furnaces. No Muppets in these ears.
     Blueberry Boat has a kind of epic feel. It doesn't feel like progressive rock, but it does have things in common with it (ambition, long songs, the previously mentioned complicated song structures). It also has a strong garage/indie feel. It's music to get lost in. I love it. (Neile)


EP

Release info:

2005—Rough Trade—06076-83256-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Eleanor Friedberger
Matthew Friedberger

Comments:

At 10 songs and 41 minutes, EP is as long as many albums. It harks back to Gallowsbird's Bark in the feel of the songs—they're a little more straightforward structurally than Blueberry Boat and way more so than the following album, Rehearsing My Choir. Some killer rock songs here, starting with "Single Again," the first track. These songs have a great sense of energy and humour—but most of all, this collection is fun. (Neile)

Rehearsing My Choir

Release info:

2005—Rough Trade—RTA 30060-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for The Fiery Furnaces' fans

Group members:

Eleanor Friedberger—vocals, drums, bells
Matthew Friedberger—other instruments

Guest artists:

Olga Sarantos—vocals
Bill Skibbe, John McEntire—additional overdubs, drum fill or roll
Rafter Roberts—additional overdubs, drum fill or roll, knife, synth drum pedal solo

Produced by:

Matthew Friedberger

Comments:

Lots of strange noises and sung and spoken word by the Friedberger's grandmother, Olga Sarantos. Parts are wonderfully melodic and delightful while other parts just go on a bit much with the noodling. There are hooks aplenty both musically and in the narrative. The counterpoints between Olga and Eleanor are intriguing (wisdom and naïveté, age and youth, deep and high). It's dramatic and playful, but it's also clearly not for everybody. It's terrific, but I find that a little of it goes a long way. Still, I like it a surprising amount for such an odd project. (Neile)

Bitter Tea

Release info:

2006—Fat Possum Records—FP1033-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of the unusual

Group members:

Eleanor Friedberger—vocals, drums
Matthew Friedberger—other instruments

Guest artists:

Michael Parker—human beat-box
Andy Knowles—drums
Bill Skibbe—tape recorder noise

Produced by:

Matthew Friedberger

Comments:

Bitter Tea is a wonderful collection of songs with odd structures, sounds, and lyrics—in other words, just what you would expect from The Fiery Furnaces. This is one of my favourites of their projects (though it seems I love them all for various reasons). This has such wonderful urgent hooks in it and such a sense of fun and bite throughout. I totally get things like "I'm in no mood to comb my hair." I love how the songs flow into each other. Some might get annoyued by the use of backwards tapes and other sound tricks, but somehow they worked for me, and not just because I'm predisposed to like this group's music. They always have to win me over—but they do, sometimes surprising even me. (Neile)

Widow City

Release info:

2007—Thrill—790377 018929 Thrill 189

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of the unusual

Group members:

Eleanor Friedberger—vocals
Matthew Friedberger—Chamberlin M1, Mellotron M400, etc.

Guest artists:

Robert D'Amico—drums

Produced by:

Matthew Friedberger

Comments:

The next step on from Bitter Tea with much the same feel. Again the songs flow into each other, full of dramatic hooks and lyrics, getting so near being way too over the top and yet managing to stay on the entertaining side of that line. Bombastic at times, but relieved by wonderful lyrics like "to locate my ex-boyfriend check the yellow pages under plywood." Definitely a keeper. (Neile)

Remember

Release info:

2008—Thrill Jockey Records—Thrill-202

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommendedfor Fiery Furnances fans

Group members:

Eleanor Friedberger—vocals, guitar
Matthew Friedberger—guitar, keyboards, vocals

Guest artists:

Robert D'Amico—drums
Jason Loewenstein—bass guitar, guitar
Michael Goodman—percussion

Produced by:

Matthew Friedberger

Comments:

This is a two-disc collection of live performances. Alas, the sound is really muddy, and so what might have been a wonderful experience given how The Fiery Furnaces have a reputation of being utterly astonishing live because of the way they mix up and connect their tunes (which they very much do throughout these two discs). The sound problems make this stay pretty earthbound. Having never made it any of their live shows beyond an early in-store, I was really looking forward to this and am quite disappointed. (Neile)

I'm Going Away

Release info:

2009—Thrill Jockey Records—Thrill 220

Availability:

Wide in U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommendedfor Fiery Furnances fans

Group members:

Eleanor Friedberger—vocals
Matthew Friedberger—guitar, keyboards, vocals

Guest artists:

Robert D'Amico—drums, percussion
Jason Loewenstein—bass

Produced by:

Matthew Friedberger

Comments:

A Fiery Furnaces album that totally doesn't call to me. Who would have thunk it? This barely hit my radar, no matter how many times I played it. Sad really, considering how much I love their earlier studio albums, even the strangest among them. (Neile)

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