Yes, this album is quite a few months old. Yes, they’ve already played in Auckland a couple of months ago. That doesn’t mean an album like this doesn’t deserve a review. After all, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, it’s one of the best indie releases this year. Bursting with ideas and digressions, it’s a natural move away from their rambling narratives of Blueberry Boat, and a fascinating listen right the way through.
The Fiery Furnaces are a brother and sister American duo whose music jumps around so much that you could mistake them for a more melodic Captain Beefheart. Indeed this album shows a band at their schizophrenic best. The beautifully moody ‘Teach Me Sweetheart’ jarringly segues into a Phantom of the Opera-esque organ solo, yet still sounds about right. ‘Waiting to Know You’ moves from a slow-dance into a piano solo. This could all be over-the-top if it wasn’t such good music.
This is more accessible than the album that helped establish their cult status, Blueberry Boat. The interesting stories and wordplay of that previous album aren’t here, instead this is tighter and less dense. It’s also exciting stuff. Album opener, ‘In My Little Thatched Hut’ starts off with a sinister fuzz bass line, incorporating hand-claps and maraccas, then breaks into acoustic folk, then tribal sounds to crazy synths all within a minute and a half. It works its way through to the beautiful untitled album closer that makes you smile and move your feet. The Fiery Furnaces are also willing to explore melodic ideas in Bitter Tea, instead of simply relying on the digressions to hold up the songs (a tactic which, to be fair, worked well in Blueberry Boat). Underlying all this is a tone of sweetness and playfulness. There’s ultimately a wistful, nostalgic feel to it. It doesn’t feel long despite its 72-minute length either – it’s value for money. Yet it’s also thrilling stuff,and to carry on with this review’s big calls, the best album yet this year.