I must confess that I haven't been a big fan of The Fiery Furnaces in the past. That isn't to say that I haven't tried. Several times. The first attempt was back in 2003 when the brother-sister duo first arrived on the indie music scene with their premiere album, Gallowsbird's Bark. A friend had told me that Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger happened to be Greek. As a Greek myself who is pretty starved for modern idols from the motherland (Amy Sedaris and Tina Fey, notwithstanding), I had every intention of loving them, but, after a few lackluster listens, things didn't work out.
Fast forward six years to The Fiery Furnaces eighth album, I'm Going Away. The music critics in the blogosphere were buzzing about the release, so I decided to sit down with the album and give my compatriots another chance.
The band's past efforts have been inaccessible to say the least. Their experimental, avant-garde approach to pop-rock and Eleanor Friedberger's unconventional, erratic vocals are hard to stomach at first. But much like hard alcohol, if you keep sipping, it tastes better and better. In a nutshell, I'm Going Away is a grower.
The album opens with "I'm Going Away," a hyperactive, thumping song with back-and-forth distorted guitars and no-nonsense lyrics packed with attitude ("Get away from my window, quit knocking on my door/ I got another man now, can't use you no more!"). The end of a romance is also the subject of the bluesy "Drive to Dallas," in which Eleanor abandons her maudlin post-breakup rituals: "I'm not going to cut my hair or run around the block/ I'm not going to drive to Dallas with blurry eyes ever again." And to prove that the track isn't about wallowing, the song randomly bursts into two unexpected, thrilling electric guitar breakdowns.
"Charmaine Champagne" picks up the pace even further as Eleanor does what she does best: packing a single line with more scats and scatterbrained words than one would think possible. And, just in case a listener might think the band had lost its knack for being weird, "Staring at the Steeple" arrives in the middle of the pack with groovy beats that underline the story of a female preacher packing heat. Not sure what it all means, but who cares? Other notable numbers are the raw, '70s inspired first single, "The End is Near," and funky sing-a-long track, "Keep Me in the Dark."
Alas, The Fiery Furnaces shtick starts getting annoying with songs like "Ray Bouvier" and "Cup and Punches." Matthew's music steps over the line from quirky to schizophrenic, while Eleanor's eccentric vocal delivery devolves into rambling. Sometimes, it feels as though the siblings are just being strange for strangeness' sake.
As if the Friedbergers knew that these grievances would arise, the album's closing song, "Take Me Round Again," rights most of the album's wrongs and captures what the band is truly capable of: a bopping beat that demands a repeat listen and will make you move. I'm Going Away might not be enough to persuade every new listener, but it was just enough for this Greek.