Monday, June 19, 2006

Fiery Furnaces / Bitter Tea / Rating: 7.6

“There's no shortage of direct and heartfelt indie rock that talks about the passion, but nothing else going sounds like the Fiery Furnaces' carefully considered babble.”

Many of us have at least one roommate we cringe at the memory of. Not only do I have one (I will call her Marisol for this purpose) but to this day the thought of her still makes me shudder. I blame her for single handedly leading me to loathe all people who refer to themselves as a thespian and or budding actress.

To make matters worse my live-in thespian also had a booming voice that was always so loud it was as if she was eternally speaking to the last row of a playhouse. (That isn’t to say people actually attended any of the productions she “starred” in.)

Life with an “actress” felt a little like being trapped in a soap opera steeped daily in high doses of dramatics. There were the weeks she was “in character” which made the most simple every day tasks like super market shopping painful. I mean you try picking a cereal with a person trying out a French accent for the first time and dressed like farmer’s daughter. Then there were the teary eyed melt downs caused by stockings with a run in them, a coffee cart without soy milk, a full moon masked by clouds, or a shoe sale at a local dept store passing her by. And you don’t want to hear about the rehearsals in our living room where MORE people of her kind convened and tried to out act / art each other.


I lost a year of my life to this sort of crazed environment but I am grateful of one thing; she did not play in band. As far as I remember she couldn’t sing (thank God because I think musical home rehearsals would have killed me) nor did she play any instrument so her theatrics and self exploration were contained to a stage and poorly costumed and set designed by others.

I couldn’t imagine what life would have been like had Marisol owned a drum machine, a synth, or guitar no less had a supportive family member coaxing her to play music…but now I can. The Fiery Furnaces have become the thing my nightmares are made of; a DIY off off broadway musical duo with plenty of plot but no props other than deceivingly attractive album cover art. Some people might enjoy an overtly dramatic performance thrown at them in the comfort of their own personal space but this is where my Marisol flashbacks kick in. Wading through a long winded wordy recital in hopes of something that might resemble a hook or a climax leaves me too fidgety to enjoy myself. Just like sitting though one of Marisol’s endless performances (this time of a girl dreams of exotic and far away places) I find myself asking, is it over yet? Is the script the problem or is it the acting? Maybe a little of both?

I appreciate PFM’s ability to make sense of this record no less give it a decent rating but the drama-phobe in me isn’t such a patient listener and there are only so many songs featuring backwards sounding parts a person can take. An hour plus worth of material starts to feel like a job rather than a pleasurable listening experience and for that it earns FF a 6. There are only so many dramatic concept albums I can embrace in a year and I am afraid Scott Walker has already claimed that spot for 2006.

Deconstructing the typical pop format is something I celebrate because it takes guts to make art that challenges the listener as well as possibly alienating a fan base but it still doesn’t mean I have to like the music. It just means I like the ideas behind their music much more than the music itself.

There are unbelievably contagious vocal melodies and memorable lines to be discovered here and if they weren’t so obscured by their outlandish abstract musical theories, not only would my rating jump to an 8 but a wider audience would be offering a standing ovation.