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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Review Tue Oct 09 2007

Review: Fiery Furnaces, Widow City


On Widow City, the sixth LP from brother-sister duo the Fiery Furnaces that lands today from Thrill Jockey, melodies, tempos and styles abruptly shift, extend, and double back. Tracks blend seamlessly together to create a giant long-form pop suite. With lyrics inspired by an imagined Ouija board and ads from women’s magazines of the early 1970s, the Furnaces take the listener on an intergalactic musical journey through the duplexes of the dead, consulting Egyptian grammars, and into the Cabaret of the Seven Devils. It’s impossible to predict where we’ll end up next, as fierce drum attacks mingle with fuzzed out guitars. The Chamberlain—a keyboard that triggers tape loops of other instruments to create a library of sound—crafts a barrage of strings, woodwinds and keys that weave in and out of the abstract song structures. The record is confusing and chaotic and requires maximum attention paid to catch all of the unique musical ideas.

Standout track “Navy Nurse” begins with a funky base, drum and guitar jam that gives way to light piano before leading a march with the repeated line, “If there’s anything I’ve had enough of, it’s today.” “Restorative Beer”, the closest thing to a single, mixes a blues riff with a rolling and tumbling vocal melody about wanting “to restore your beer to take my mind off these tears”. I salute the Fiery Furnaces for making a piece of work that is obtuse, that is difficult to listen to, that shies away from three-minute masterpieces when it’s clear that they possess an acute understanding of pop perfection. The Furnaces might be the most unique band on the planet and they refuse to take the easy way out, and this album is surprising and startling and weird.

But it’s long. Really long. Perhaps it’s unfair to criticize art for being too long (“it’s as long as it needs to be”, comes the counter-attack from the artist) but if I, as a music fan and sometime critic, sit around waiting for the album to end so I can pen my review or do the dishes, it’s too long. A little self-conscious weirdness goes a long way, and by the end of 16 tracks and 56 minutes, the genre-hopping travelogue of Widow City wears thin and I just want to go home.

The Fiery Furnaces have carved a nice niche for themselves in this pop landscape and they continually produce albums bursting forth with ideas, melodies, and strange behavior. But the music, as it relates to Widow City, doesn’t resonate. I’m never going to spin this disc at a party, or when I come home drunk and lonely, or as the soundtrack for a walk on the lakefront. I'm not asking for cheesy slow dance numbers or sappy cliches but I would like to hear some heart.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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