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Record Review: The Fiery Furnaces

This story was published Febraury 3, 2005 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.

Each time I play The Fiery Furnaces’ EP, I wince — any charm the album offers is lost amid disjointed lyrics and a lack of musical intuition.

The EP is flaky and immature. For example, the bangy piano intro to “Duffer St. George” could have been composed by two angry five-year olds. The lyrics could have been written by their younger siblings.

Lead singer Eleanor Friedberger’s vocals in “Sullivan’s Social Slub” are high and girly, and the pronunciation of Iceland as “icy-land” is unbearable.

The incomprehensible lyrics in “Evergreen” detract from what could have been a pleasant chorus. The strange phrase, “Needle prick my spruce root,” punctures the song’s otherwise appealing qualities.

We, as students at the University of Virginia and members of an elite academic group, are trained to suss out meanings and truths from the muddy language we encounter in philosophy essays and Biochem textbooks. The lyrics on this album could stump the most scholarly students — the Furnaces create words at will and, as seen in the CD jacket, toss apostrophes into their sentences like pepper onto scrambled eggs.

In the fourth track, Matt, the male half of the Fiery Furnaces, makes a vocal appearance. He sounds like a cross between Elliot Smith and The Who’s Roger Daltrey. “Sing for Me” gets boring quickly, but boredom doesn’t offer the listener respite — there are no track breaks. This lack of recovery time taints the listening experience. It’s like ducking your head into icy water for 41 minutes.

In “Duffer St. George,” the flute and recorder orbit around each other without ever making harmonious contact. A lack of similar riffs and rhythms increases the overall obnoxiousness of the track.

In “Smelling Cigarettes,” The Who and The Beatles are in full influential force. The lilting spoken/sung lyric pattern in the subsequent track, “Cousin Chris,” is a cheerful show tune style. This song is the album’s best.

“Sweet Spots,” the ninth track, is the album’s shot at electronica. It is perky synth pop that is disoriented but not discombobulated. And while the guitar didn’t make my face melt, I think my mascara ran a little.

The second track, “Here Comes the Summer,” is the most mainstream-friendly piece on the EP. It has a drum machine, some distortion and a synthesizer bopping and blowing in the background. Synthesized trumpets lend a mystical Emerson, Lake and Palmer flavor, adding depth to the song.

This album is only for diehards. Despite their merits, listening to The Fiery Furnaces is like shaving with a really dull razor. Eventually, you just get irritated.

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