Under Review: The Fiery Furnaces – I’m Going Away

Sometimes, even without listening to a note of their music, I can tell that a band is not for me. Of course, there are exceptions, but some easy indicators include: fewer than 3 people in the band, notoriety for aggressive stage shows, and non-folk bands made up of siblings. If you’ve been a fan for any amount of time, you’ll know that The Fiery Furnaces carry all of those traits, and a few more. Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger (indeed brother and sister) are the core members, writing, playing and producing album after album, year after year. Since their 2003 debut, they have released 8 studio albums, a live compilation and a whole bunch of singles. The latest in that series, I’m Going Away, is not what you might expect from such an avant-pop group. Veering back and forth between barroom honky-tonk and mellowed-out R&B, I’m Going Away marks another turn for the band, who have previously dabbled in garage rock and synthpop. Opening with the title track (another pet peeve of mine, but executed well here), the album jumps out of the gate with a jittery, time-shifting shuffle. “The End Is Near,” the first track released from the album, is an unusual choice for a lead single. Its apocalyptic message is not so bleak, as Eleanor’s nonchalant vocals give a very matter-of-fact warning. Eleanor’s vocals themselves behave like an instrument, but not in the Bjork sense. On “Charmaine Champagne,” she channels Patti Smith, and even a little Stevie Nicks on the very ‘70s-y “Even In The Rain.” Earlier this year (and outside of this blog), I criticized Conor Oberst’s new album, Outer South, for being way too cheesy and ‘70s-sounding, but a similarly free-spirited vibe seems to fit The Fiery Furnaces much better. There’s no telling what kind of album The Fiery Furnaces were trying to make for this effort, nor is there any way of telling where they’re going from here. What is certain is that Matthew and Eleanor prove that a band shouldn’t be judged by their appearance, but by their musical merit.

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~ by E. on July 20, 2009.

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