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Fiery Furnaces - Gallowsbird's Bark

  by Geraint Jones

published: 6 / 12 / 2003

Fiery Furnaces - Gallowsbird's Bark
Label: Rough Trade
Format: CD


Lavishly praised debut album from versatile Anglophiles the Fiery Furnaces, which just about lives up to its hype

Often roped in with The White Stripes, the Fiery Furnaces are the latest US export to get lavish praise heaped upon them. Originally from Chicago, rather than the prerequisite Detroit, and now based in New York they are actual relations as opposed to formerly conjugal ones like the Whites, being centred around siblings Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger. Despite gaining the impression they are a duo, they are in fact a 3-piece, although whether drummer Ryan Sawyer is regarded as an integral member remains to be seen. Adding some credence to the Whites Stripes comparisons however, the Fiery Furnaces have incorporated distinct blues influences into their sound, but that’s only an aspect of their often bizarre, yet oddly accessible eclecticism. Handling almost all of the vocals is Eleanor Friedberger, conjuring for me memories of such lamented late ‘70s / early ‘80s indie stalwarts as Girls At Our Best, the Au Pairs, Delta 5 and the Slits. I’m probably completely off the mark, although being Anglo-American and having spent some of their formative years in the UK as well as elsewhere in Europe it’s quite possible they may have come across some or all of them at some point. Or not! Either way they display undeniably Anglophile tendencies, wherever they draw them from. Strident, yet melodic, Eleanor Friedberger’s vocals are assuredly the driving force and centre of the band’s sound. That by no means suggests that brother Matt takes a back seat though. Between them, Matt presumably handling the majority of guitar work, they kick up a fair old rumpus. The album stomps and struts like little else I’ve heard for a while, its underlying melodicism and imaginative instrumental strengths – an often pounding piano, xylophone (I think?) and an unfussy and functional, though entirely adequate beat (thanks Ryan!) alongside the guitars, add up to an unusual and impressive debut. Their cryptically engrossing lyrics add to the album’s impact. Even if few of them make immediate sense, Eleanor’s forceful exclamation of lines such as “I pierced my ears with a 3-hole punch. Ate 12 dozen donuts for lunch”, couldn't fail to raise a smile, albeit a skewed and disturbed one. Sometimes you worry a little for band’s who receive such plaudits so early in their career – at least it took the White Stripes a couple of albums before everyone went overboard (they’re good, but are they really that good?). But having read that ‘Gallowsbird’s Bark’ was actually recorded as a set of demos that the band hoped would gain them a deal, perhaps they’d better get used to it.

Track Listing:-
1 South Is Only A Home
2 I'm Gonna Run
3 Leaky Tunnel
4 Up In The North
5 Inca Rag/Name Game
6 Asthma Attack
7 Don't Dance Her Down
8 Crystal Clear
9 Two Fat Feet
10 Bow Wow
11 Gale Blow
12 Worry Worry
13 Bright Blue Tie
14 Tropical Ice-Land
15 Rub-Alcohol Blues
16 We Got Back the Plague

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