Excitability within any objective medium provides an easy target for elitist derision, but no matter -- albums such as this strip fallible reviewers like me of all objective integrity. Moreover, they are responsible for making otherwise reasonable men let slip with beastly superlative-driven cliches like "giving 110%," and "Eleven; On a scale of one to 10." Albums like this make reservations for the top spot on critical and personal year-end lists long before the leaves even turn. But more than all this, they reset the bar for progressive, groundbreaking music as a whole.
Their '03 debut, Gallowsbird Bark, was a captivating, novel, and impulsive take on everything from swamp-festering garage rock to frolicsome acoustic guitar/piano-pop. On Blueberry Boat, The Fiery Furnaces have grown exponentially, and as such have drawn up an unprecedented blueprint for sonic evolution and exploratory otherworldliness. For the record, you can file this somewhere between an exhaled fireside-narrative as told by Sir Elton and a suffocating gibberish-tale spat from a "71 Andrew Lloyd Webber fever dream rock opera. On a record that demands repeat listenings, siblings Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger share vocal duties and everything but a bed. They glide through, on 13 tracks, several near 10-minute odysseys that spout ensemble melodies churned through indelible piano-pop not heard since Yellowbrick Road, and Flaming Lips-inflected gurgle-splat electronics -- all of it sprinkled with simplistic yet affecting story lines even Hemingway would back. The title track alone sports enough melodic punch and narrative prowess to support an entire album's worth of material.
Yet no matter how much you try and make yourself a part of this album, or how many footnotes it generates from the indie-bred cred-glutted intelligentsia's over-analysis, it was not recorded with you, or anyone else, in mind. Homeless at its core, Blueberry Boat plays out so audaciously you can't help but want to gorge yourself on your willingness to take it in. And once in, surely, it will be exercising an extended stay in your company.
Track to Burn: "Inspector Blancheflower"
Grade: A+ --William Morris
The Real New Fall LP
Even if the Fall is a band of phases, personnel change and a vast, three-decade catalog, there is always mean and ugly Mark E. Smith, and that keeps the Fall the almighty Fall: if it's got his mad misanthropic mumblings over rhythmic scattershot, you've got a goddamn Fall record.
The Real New Fall LP... is the first US release by these British punks in six years, and it's (quite) lovely to have them back, even though only Smith remains from earlier incarnations. What's surprising about this Fall is that 1) Each song (rather than album) has its own identity, and 2) You can understand most of what Smith has to say. "Contraflow" drives you out of town, then threatens: "I hate the countryside, so much/I hate the country folk, so much." "Janet vs. Johnny" features acoustic guitars and a drum breaking down to rim-shots. "Boxoctosic" Pandora-tempts Smith to "open the goddamn box" -- as though he hasn't already. Backing vocals range from Britpop sighs to female soccer hooligans, and manage to counter Smith's foul vocal attack. He's on this time, and so is the Fall.
Track to Burn: "Mountain"
Grade: A --Jesse Steichen
The Eye of Every Storm
Dual guitarists/vocalists Scott Kelly and Steven Von Tills have toned down the guttural screams of past Neurosis recordings and sing or speak words through a dirge-laden, hard prog-rock tunnel. Neurosis have always made their pointed and often spiritual observations known with shards of punk rifling through the gates of industrial and heavy metal wastelands. The Eye of Every Storm is the next step in that evolution as they use a more symphonic approach. With the help of engineer Steve Albini, Neurosis make folk drone, guitars rumble and resonate and repeat while building layers filled with unease. It's a deviation and a stroll down a different path from last year's recording with Jarboe (ex-Swans). This record's modus operandi is orchestration ala The Flaming Lips with plenty of Black Sabbath drone and gothic overtones. Each song is a small epic filled with Neurosis' affinity for changes in tempo and bombast. Ever since 1996's breakthrough album, Through Silver in Blood, Neurosis have upped the ante in their already eclectic oeuvre. With each subsequent listen of The Eye of Every Storm the light at the end of the tunnel approaches, but one wants to linger a bit more in its dark and mysterious hollows.
Track to burn: "Bridges"
Grade: A---Samir Shukla