Album review

The Fiery Furnaces :
Gallowsbird's Bark

Rough Trade

The Fiery Furnaces : Gallowsbird's BarkEvery so often, some musicians come along who remind us that genius does not necessarily merely exist in doing things so staggeringly new that no-one else has thought of them before, but also in creating rich mixes of style and genre which give attractive new perspectives on the different musics they incorporate.
    The Fiery Furnaces, based around Eleanor and Matt, a brother-sister duo from Chicago who now live in New York, are one of those bands who, just when you think you've got their style sussed, go and play something which really surprises you. Their eclectic range of influences really show on this album; from alt. country meanderings reminiscent of Smog, to the ever-present blues tinge (these guys really love their flattened sevenths) and the surprising intrusion of the familiar rocking pulse of reggae. The lyrics - sometimes whimsical, relentlessly personal - use the same bluesy vocal declamation throughout, though the jagged humming at the end of Up In The North is bizarrely reminiscent of Britpop bands such as Oasis!

The clearly vivid musical imagination of Eleanor and Matt creates a satisfying sense of sonic adventure throughout the album. Their sonic palette ranges from pseudo-psychopathic drum-thumping a la Meg White in Crystal Clear; to the electronic glissandi, funky bass and offbeat pattern of Up In The North; the throbbing bass, synthesised riffs and anarchic drum entry of Leaky Tunnel and the exaggeratedly simple piano accompaniment (reminiscent perhaps of Cat Power) of Inca Rag/Name Game.
    The album also has an attractive (if slightly contrived) sense of being under-produced: At the end of Two Fat Feet, the guitar riff for Bow Wow begins prematurely accompanied by barely-audible chatter.

Having covered so much musical ground with their first album, what can The Fiery Furnaces possibly have left to explore in future albums? Hopefully, they won't feel too much need to revisit old ground, but will explore their musical landscape even more fully. After all, with the varied musical background they appear to come from, they don't seem to be remotely short of ideas.

:: Hilary Davies

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