Hey, There’s a Bird in This Mirror!

Diversion Enthusiast Society, est. 2007

Music Marathon 2007, Part 6 (Fiery Furnaces – The Forms)

with 6 comments

All-failure edition!

Fiery Furnaces – Widow City

I think I’ve done this to myself every year since Blueberry Boat came out. I bought that album, intrigued by the reviews, and even further intrigued by the notion of a band putting out an album full of song-suites a la The Who’s “A Quick One.” I admired it at first, impressed by Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger’s ability to hold it together for these intricate, epic songs. I even kind of enjoyed it, along with parts of the subsequent, misleadingly-titled EP. But then something clicked (or maybe unclicked) for me. The more I listened to their releases, including the two I heard first, the less impressed I became. Generally speaking, the Friedbergers write song parts, not songs, and then stitch them together in an awkward, haphazard fashion, hoping to impress with their constant jumps. Being able to play these pieces in order (or not in order, as I hear they sometimes do live) is an act of memory, not composition. It’s an impressive feat, but not a musical one. In fact, one might argue that the Fiery Furnaces are overly cerebral in general, down to Eleanor’s delivery, which may not sound bored, but also doesn’t suggest she’s particularly interested in the lyrics. Any modulation in her voice seems triggered by musical necessity rather than emotional connection or even comprehension of the words. But you know what? The Furnaces can’t really be called overly cerebral, either, because the lyrics just aren’t that smart. For the record, Widow City is like the other Fiery Furnaces albums with fewer really long songs and no contributions from grandma.

Fountains of Wayne – Traffic and Weather

And on the other end of the pop spectrum, we have Fountains of Wayne, who aren’t innovators, are far more content to be funny than “smart” (get it? – the Furnaces are meta, so they’re not really supposed to be smart), and, in terms of the Who, who would probably rather listen to “Pictures of Lily” than “A Quick One.” It seems almost unfair to stack these two bands up against each other, but I’ll take any of the terrific, simple pop songs from FoW’s first couple albums and a bunch off the third over any number of the more supposedly complex, indie rock standbys. But here’s the switcheroo – Traffic and Weather is kind of awful. All of the usual FoW elements seem to be here, but something’s wrong. The stories they’re telling no longer hit the highs and lows of everyday existence, but alternate between the mediums of everyday existence (do we need a song about “Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim?”) and the absurd (the title song seems to be a literal telling of love at the news anchor desk). The pop culture references are now more plentiful than clever wordplay. Perhaps, worst of all, the songs are all so dynamically flat that even some decent melodies don’t distinguish them from each other. Take a listen to Utopia Parkway, though, and tell me that they’re just some shitty band who had that dumb hit about the MILF (BTW, that was a great dumb hit about the MILF).

The Forms – s/t

The Forms are one of those bands who sound fabulous in snippet format. If you heard a 30-second clip of “Knowledge in Hand” and “Red Gun,” you’d be sold, as I was. However, The Forms don’t seem to know what to do with the great parts they write, so they just repeat them over and over again within a song and throughout the album (a few choruses here are just slightly modified, louder versions of the verse). To get drummer-y for a second, over half of this album is in 5/4, at least one of the others is in 7/8. I’m all for unusual time signatures, but this band’s penchant for them seems to box its songs into predictable formulas over and over again. At the very best, it’s good background music, but the general sound they have (roughly comparable to the Velvet Teen in lush, pop mode) makes one wish they wrote better songs.


Written by Dave

December 6, 2007 at 12:49 pm

6 Responses

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  1. There was really only so much FoW could’ve squeezed out of the “we are so pop we’re not pop” shtick once they actually became well, popular. I find myself only able to listen to Utopia… and Out of State Plates lately. But thank you for validating my love for “Stacey’s Mom”..

    …btw, I got this page link from Lyndon, in case you were wondering how I randomly found my way here.

    Euge (soul)

    December 6, 2007 at 2:34 pm

  2. Actually, I just assumed you were stalking us, Soul. 🙂


    December 6, 2007 at 3:22 pm

  3. No stalking. But LD hyped up and promised me Dave’s music wrap-up when I joined CHUD earlier this year, and I’m going to get it dammit!

    Euge (soul)

    December 6, 2007 at 4:29 pm

  4. I put a bunch of Fiery Furnaces on my iPod, and it made me realize that White Light/White Heat is my least favorite VU album. I love it, but it’s a strange chemistry that doesn’t have the replay factor of the other three because the concept become stunts. VU did it better than anyone, but yeah.


    December 12, 2007 at 1:33 pm

  5. I love White Light/White Heat, too, but I totally understand what you’re saying. It’s easy for formally experimental works to become novelty.

    To pull off high-concept well, there has to be something driving it beyond the spirit of experimentation. There’s a furious energy behind WL/WH that gets it across, there’s a playful joy that informs the Dirty Projectors’ Rise Above, and, to use a filmic example, there’s love and humor at the heart of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Furnaces are too dispassionate, and the novelty is eventually going to wear off even for their superfans.


    December 12, 2007 at 2:16 pm

  6. I like WL/WH a ton, it’s just the last VU album I want to throw on, which I give more in music than with movies.

    And also, I thought sexualchocolate.org would not be a taken website. Damnit, joke ruined.


    December 13, 2007 at 4:41 pm

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