Widow City by The Fiery Furnaces

Quirky. Challenging. Unique. These are the words that come to mind when thinking of the sibling duo the Fiery Furnaces (FF). Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger have been relentlessly churning out interpretations of pop music year in and year out, becoming one of the most productive bands in recent memory. Each yearly album is different from the previous one.
The album starts off simply with ‘The Philadelphia Grand Jury.’ This album, in typical FF fashion, paints a story with every song. The opener makes you feel like you’re witnessing a trial.
The next few songs meld into one, filled with elegant sweeps and jarring distortion. ‘Clear Signal From Cairo’ then takes main stage with a jaw-dropping intro that plays the bongos with your eardrums. When listening to Eleanor’s singing, you feel safe, and then the song crunches up and sweeps you off your feet.
‘My Egyptian Grammar’ returns to FF’s delicate side. One of the easiest songs on the ears by the brother/sister duo, the beautiful instrumentation would have anyone bobbing their head along.
The next couple of songs never stand straight, mixing FF’s usual pop sensibility with their experimental tendencies. ‘The Old Hag is Sleeping’ and ‘Japanese Slippers’ are both filled with FF’s successful attempts to turn noise into pop. These hearken back to some of the more interesting moments on last year’s ‘Bitter Tea.’
‘Navy Nurse’ opens with a piercing riff that will make you bob your head instantly, and then dives between soothing and bringing the funk. ‘Uncle Charlie’ seems like a big project the entire time, fully equipped with drum solos, thumping bass lines and crashing guitars.
In between all of this experimentation, a couple of captivating brooders are likely to satisfy all long-time FF fans. ‘Right by Conquest’ is a smooth psychedelic track with an easy-going, cynical Eleanor. ‘Restorative Beer’ is a sweeping, consistent piece that could fit as the rambling counterpart to the elegant ‘Rub-Alcohol Blues’ of ‘Gallowsbird’s Bark.’
‘Cabaret of the Seven Devils’ captures Eleanor at her storytelling best. She excitingly exclaims, ‘This establishment will now serve my purposes,’ describing an aggravated duke’s attempts to find a place of his own. This song, like all FF stories, can wrap you up in them if you listen closely.
‘Pricked in the Heart’ and ‘Widow City’ are practically polar opposites of each other, but end the album fittingly. The former is as simple as you will hear from FF, but the story is extravagant. ‘Widow City’ features a piano that seemingly has no idea where it is going until Eleanor leads it back to something consistent. Piano chords pound, Eleanor follows, and right when you think she is going to lead the rest of her mournful ballad, the last half-minute ends how the song started, now with an interesting sense of familiarity.
Even with its idiosyncrasies, this album is probably the most accessible album by the band since ‘Gallowsbird’s Bark.’ Eleanor does a great job leading the vocals while Matt takes a backseat, and the album contains some of FF’s best work. This band has made its career going over and beyond what’s recommended, and making music that offers you the entire spectrum rather than one end of it. If you are looking for soft, consistent melodies, this album may not be for you. As far as creativity, there are few bands that compare. If the Fiery Furnaces will continue pushing pop limits, they will continue to stick out from the crowd. This is what makes them so special. Like fine wine, they are an acquired taste.