It took about six months, but I did at some point in December finally digest all of Blueberry Boat. The Fiery Furnaces' double concept record was heavier than ten Thanksgivings dinners, rich with concept, and it disaffected fans of their 2003 debut, Gallowsbird's Bark, in droves. Just about everyone who listened to the whole thing had something to call it: From "brilliant," to "pretentious drivel," to "weird and boring," Blueberry Boat pitted brother against brother. Granted, the siblings Friedberger did lay one tough egg to crack, shifting every two minutes or so over thirteen dense tracks while creating elaborate, semi-sensical narratives about everything from pirates to insurance-scamming murderesses and dabbling in Joyce-ian word play and lyrics in Inuit. This tendency toward sprawling narrative and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink arrangements left many scratching their heads and reaching for expired bottles of Ritalin.
But EP, a forty-minute mini-album compiling ten B-sides, sees the Friedbergers kissing and making up with those they alienated with Blueberry Boat. After that eighty-minute opus, it's contextually logical for the band to release a standard album's worth of material and call it EP. And with it, they've created the perfect (re)introduction to the Fiery Furnaces.
Starting out with a trilogy of tracks that easily glide into each other was a smart move. Opener "Single Again," here slightly reworked from the previously released single, is about as stripped-down as they get, with a standard beat and some mingling with squishier synth sounds, keyboards and guitar. Densely layered yet pleasantly simple, it's the closest they'll come to anything that could be seen as a "hit." "Here Comes the Summer" and "Evergreen" keep up the steady pace, with Eleanor guiding the would-be sing-alongs until Matt picks up the slack with "Sing for Me," another stripped down gem. It's clear, as suspected, that the Furnaces can be as poppy as they want -- they just get bored with it.
Also reworked for EP is "Tropical Ice-land." A breezy acoustic mile-marker on Gallowsbird's Bark, it reappears here as a chaotic pop centerpiece, decked out with background guitar wailing and distorted vocals as they play with the tone shifts that defined Blueberry Boat. Eleanor again gets into random storytelling on "Smelling Cigarettes," imagining herself as a meddling shut-in neighbor. Matthew plays more of a role on the vocals throughout this collection, most notably on "Cousin Chris," another highlight whose teetering synth horns reminisce on Blueberry Boat's "Wolf Notes."
Barring some unforeseen shift, this is the most accessible -- and the most fun -- Fiery Furnaces record we'll hear, and their next outing will likely be stranger than what they've produces so far. That's fine, though -- with EP they've proven they haven't fallen into the musical tangent so many have proclaimed. As complex as these songs are, they display a sharp sense of what works in pop music. But that's not enough -- they tend to treat their fans as if they're as smart as they are.
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