|1. Quay Cur|
|2. Straight Street|
|3. Blueberry Boat|
|4. Chris Michaels|
|5. Paw Paw Tree|
|6. I Lost My Dog|
|7. Mason City|
|8. Inspector Blancheflower|
|11. Bird Brain|
|12. Catamaran Man|
Piano and sputtering keyboards open the enormous intro song -- it's ten minutes long, no kidding. Then Eleanor Friedburger's sweet, singsong vocals kick in, singing a sprawling pop song. It sounds like a child's nursery rhyme on acid, full of deceptively simple rhythms, sparkling melodies and Inuit words tossed into the mix. A sugnacoon, by the way, is a coat.
That ten-minute opener also gives an idea of what the band is all about -- strange ideas, set into stories against a backdrop of artistic indierock. Echoing guitars and swirling keyboards fill up the gaps between their story-songs, which focus on everything from a religious dog in the fuzzy organ-pop "My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found," to a kid doing legal work in guitar-heavy "Mason City."
If you want to get technical, nothing here makes sense. But like Neutral Milk Hotel, it makes sense if you ignore all your musical senses, and just listen to it by itself. The wild stylistic changes in the middle of songs, the nonsensical lyrics, and the mix of acoustic and keyboard seem like a trio of death knells for this album. Instead, they add to the magic and whimsy of it.
At first glance, the songs seem incomprehensible. Or worse, absurd. But just keep listening -- sooner or later it clicks, and the unique writing of each song shines out. The songs overflow with onomatopoeia (note: words that sound like sounds), childlike rhymes, and bizarre subject matter like pirates robbing the "blueberry boat." Perhaps the best representation is the first song -- "Quay Cur" has a lot of words that sound like nonsense, but turn out to make perfect sense once you look up what they are.
While the Furnaces got lots of praise for being catchy in their debut, here they don't stick to hooks -- whenever you think they're going to do so, they veer off. Instead we get unabashedly sparkly melodies, handclaps and eerie keyboards that sputter, ripple, hover and spark. The piano gets the best workout -- sometimes it tinkles, sometimes it ripples, sometimes it gets thumped into a dance-hall rhythm.
Sibling musicians Matt and Eleanor Friedberger share vocal duties -- Matt sounds a bit grimmer and down-to-earth, even when he's surrounded by keyboard washes. Eleanor throws herself entirely into the singing, with plenty of humor about lines like, "I kicked my dog... I was MEAN to him before!" She sounds genuinely shocked about herself.
The concept album is not quite dead, and the Fiery Furnaces have done their bit to keep it alive. To call their charming, eerie critique/concept album a future classic isn't too much of a stretch.
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