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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The End is Near

My arm hurts.
  • The Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away
  • The Fiery Furnaces in general...
  • Universal Health Care
  • Pandora
  • Funny People
  • The Time Traveler's Wife
  • (500 Days) of Summer
  • The Jackson 5
  • Album Reviews
  • The constructs of family (continued)
  • Generational Gaps
The Fiery Furnaces new album, I'm Going Away, their seventh studio release since 2003 (eighth overall, live release last year) and it is strictly an album for fans. That's not to say that the songs aren't good, or intriguing, or engaging, it's just they are done in such a style that if you aren't a Furnaces fan already based on all of their previous work, then you won't understand the qualities that you're supposed to be identifying. I'll explain this more tomorrow, as with my love for FF, but there is a subtlety to the album that only becomes apparent when listening in context to who the band is and how they normally function. In many ways, this album retreads previously wandered paths by FF, particularly on "I'm Going Away", the opening track, which would have fit nicely on their debut album, Gallowsbird's Bark. It's jaunty piano part and running beat measures are very similar in structure to songs like "I'm Gonna Run."

There is also a strong 70s influence on the album, not unlike that on their latest album, Widow City, but instead of characterizing bands like Led Zeppelin, they take a more soft rock approach which results in their most bland, pop sounding effort to date. Again, that's not saying that the album is boring or insignificant, because it is - but it forces you to listen closely to follow the drama building in each musical composition. That being said, if you let it fade into the background, it can comeback in a hurry. On "Drive to Dallas", an anti-love song of sorts, there are spastic "guitar solos" releasing the built up emotion in the lyrics that would wake up anybody trying to sleep on the slow moving, almost elevator style music that drives the song.

"The End is Near" is just about as traditional a song as FF have ever done. A piano part reminiscent of the best of the seventies' piano pop (think Burt Bacharach), pleasant phrasing on the lyrics (about the apocalypse, but they can't get too predicable). There's a sweeping guitar solo, but overall - it's the most radio friendly and pleasant song they've done. If you're not a FF fan, but would like to hear something off the album, start here.

There is a two-part song, naturally. FF have, in the past (mostly on Rehearsing My Choir), played with the concept of melodies as a running theme through an album (like lyrics on prog albums) with much success. Here, "Charmaine Champagne" and "Cups and Punches" share so much, they might as well be twins. The difference is the disjointed guitar solo on CC and the wailing outro on C and P. It's a fun song with lot's of jazzy 'ba-ba-baba', but overall, I feel they are both misses in some respect.

"Cut the Cake" is a fun little song, vague lyrics and a few simple time changes, which is a FF calling card. Wonderful use of counter-melody on the big mood shift as well. Good phrasing on the repeated refrain as well, as the expressed emotion is allowed to peak out where it's not obvious from the actual words.

It's worth noting that Eleanor wrote most of the lyrics for this album, where as Matthew has taken most song writing duties for the previous five albums. This is likely why there is such a close resemblance in mood to Gallowsbird's Bark, which she also had primary song writing duties.

"Even in the Rain" is the pop song, without a doubt. Overall, the album makes up the most pop appeal of any FF album, the previous holder was likely EP or Bitter Tea, although Bitter Tea's excessive use of backwards vocals pushed some people away, despite the strongest pure songs from the band being there. The return of the piano on I'm Going Away is a nice return to form after Widow City being so guitar heavy, and when they pull the guitar out of the closet, it sounds much stronger than when they use it as their primary melody.

"Starring at the Steeple" is a quasi-political-religious song that could easily rub many people the wrong way, but it's thudding bass line and great drum part in the chorus really make it a pounding anthem when it could have fallen apart, but is really held together by the musicianship in the room. It's also an exhausting song, exemplified by Eleanor's 'penny by penny by penny by...penny' line. It's really a great song about being lost in life, but still moving forward even though you don't know where you're least, that's what I think it's about. I could be way off, that's for sure.

"Ray Bouvier", unfortunately, is a pleasant enough song but rather forgettable. It's possible I haven't listened closely enough to find the nuisances that really bring out the song's character, but it just doesn't interest me at this time.

"Keep Me in the Dark" is probably my favorite song on the album, with fun handclaps (also found on "Even in the Rain"). Fun lyrics, a great guitar piece. It's just a great FF song, all around. Same with "Lost At Sea" (another song about not knowing yourself), although no handclaps on this one.

The album closes with the aforementioned "Cups and Punches" which is a bit more engaging than it's earlier counterpart, seems to have more emotion in it although most FF songs are stylistically cold by construct. Finally, "Take Me Round Again" - built similarly in structure to "Philadelphia Grand Jury" or "Clear Signal From Cairo" from Widow City, but instead of a menacing, mostly instrumental setting pieces, it's a glorious whirlwind tour of New York City in musical form. The lyrics never change, a repeating chorus throughout, but the backdrop is a constantly evolving world and the phrasing, timing and tonality of the lines sung change with each passing iteration, further deepening the spirit of the song which is basically, let's go again. One FF quality that can't be denied is that they always put a great closer on that ties together the album and really encourages another listen. Of course, anyone serious about listening to the FF better prepare to listen to the album straight through three or four times, to even just get the lines of the picture drawn, then you can worry about coloring in the lines upon future listens. Of course, FF probably wouldn't encourage coloring inside the lines. Bottom line - like all FF albums, it's a lot of work, but a very rewarding listen. It's even more rewarding if you're already a fan, so you know what you're looking for.

Highlights - "Keep Me In The Dark" "Lost At Sea" "Take Me Round Again"

NOTE: the band has already announced that they will be re-releasing the album, twice. The first re-release will have 6 songs as done exclusively by Matt and the other 6 by Eleanor, then vice versa, further exemplifying how FF believe that a song is as much a living thing, evolving and growing up, as we are as people. Think about it. Woah.

Nathan out - ta.

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