7.08.2009

Pre-Screening: The Fiery Furnaces

Album: I'm Going Away
Artist: The Fiery Furnaces
Label: Thrill Jockey
Due Out: July 21st

The Fiery Furnaces, departing yet again from the central theme and sound of their previous record (in this case, 2007's Widow City), bring us a new album full of vast country landscapes and fields. Out in this new wilderness, however, they also manage to hone the rough-and-tumble aspect of life out on the plains into something relatable and identifiable to the listening public. Not surprisingly, the band adapts rather well to these new surroundings, surveying the views around them and adjusting accordingly. For a band from New York City, the seem awfully accustomed to the folksy nature of I'm Going Away takes on at times, and it's interesting to hear their pursuit of the aesthetic as the record progresses further.

The album starts with the title track, "I'm Going Away," which bursts onto the scene with a rock hard bass line and a pretty solid impersonation of The Format. It provides a fair introduction for the sounds you'll encounter for the remainder of the album, even with the fiercely repetitive guitar riff and vocal line about going away. Next, is "Drive to Dallas," and I'll assume that trip is long and scenic, because that's the mood this song gives off. Actually, maybe the word "long" isn't appropriate. Perhaps it's better to describe it as "steady". For the most part, the song remains calm and paced, save a few separate frames that involve a quickened, almost frenzied pace that brings us from classic Americana to garage rock in a matter of seconds. As the mood resettles at the end, we begin "The End Is Near," a song that greatly resembles the feelings associated with the previous track. Just like its predecessor, it starts low, increases its pace and volume (this time at a more controlled level), and then sinks back down to a steady stroll- all the more reason to be a bit surprised by what comes next. "Charmaine Champagne" is a jazzy, catchy pop tune that also borders on corny. Still, the certifiably goofy track succeeds, and becomes one of the more memorable moments on the record, especially with the guitar (made to sound like a horn) solo.

The jazz theme continues, as you seem to enter farther into some sort of figurative saloon, which you, of course, walked through the doors of in the last song. "Cut the Cake" is carried by a strong and jovial piano part, liberal use of drum set and cymbals, and Matthew Friedberger's indicting tone. The piano once again takes center stage on "Even In The Rain," as what starts out sounding like a Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band song ends up... sounding like a Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band song, sung by Nate Ruess. It's blues rock-oriented, with a southwestern flair, and overall a nice change of pace. "Staring at the Steeple" follows, but ditches the bright atmosphere we saw on the last few tracks, instead embracing a dark off-key trot into the inner sanctums of the band's psyche. The addition of an organ part also contributes to the sultry adjustment in demeanor. But then we're back to upbeat piano pop on "Ray Bouvier". It bounces in every sense, even instituting a weird space-western solo that intrigues me every time I hear it. Quite the juxtaposition, really.

"Keep Me in Dark," is another deceptive track that starts out as a mild-mannered, mid-tempo saunter, before picking up a few pop vibes and an engaging bass line to create the driving piece it becomes. In keeping with this, and the piano themes of the second half of the album, "Lost At Sea" seems to fit the light and airy attitude the title implies. Almost flighty in nature, instead of showing remorse for being "lost" per say, it seems to display a bit of jubilation at the fact. Being lost at sea works very well here as a metaphor for not being oneself- an interesting take on the phrase. Next, "Cups and Punches" starts off with the same notes that we ended the previous song with- not exactly a good thing- but luckily it changes to more of a jingly (but repetitive) ragtime jazz number which is good in its place. Finally, "Take Me Round Again" is a bit of an anomaly, as it sounds nothing like the other songs on the album, but the message the lyrics convey is interesting. Friedberger seemingly longs, and begs, for his home, New York City- showing perhaps the growing discomfort with being out of their element. It's not necessarily a bad track, but can come off as a bit confusing and out of place, and sounds slightly like a musical finale.

Besides being kind of confused at the last track, I found I'm Going Away to be a pretty cool effort overall. Lots of things going on to create an interesting album about homesickness, struggling with yourself and adapting to being in a completely new atmosphere. Not at all what you expect when you first hit play, but who doesn't like surprises on an album? The Fiery Furnaces have chiseled out an effective sound that works for them, and also allows for some leeway in drifting one way or another. As long as that way isn't the direction of the final track, I'd say we're gold. For similarities, please check out the aforementioned Format, The Magnetic Fields and The New Pornographers.

Rating: 7.5/10

Best Track: "Lost At Sea" (not available, but check out "The End Is Near")

2 comments:

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John said...

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