The Fiery Furnaces
I’m Going Away
Label: Thrill Jockey
For a relatively young pair so entrenched in family history, a prolific discography and a dedication to challenging musical conventions as unorthodox as their own, each new Fiery Furnaces LP is pretty astounding. This kitchen-sink, take-no-prisoners approach can make them intimidating to novice listeners; when playing Blueberry Boat or the more recent Widow City, its hard not to feel out of the loop – like every new musical direction Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger take make FF more of a family and longtime fan affair. Though, with a closer look, albums like I’m Going Away reveal themselves to be entertaining, witty, and memorable listens that stand just fine on their own. It just so happens they’re all pretty different.
And the Fiery Furnaces definitely have gone for something new this time around. I’m Going Away is a playful approach to relationship-fueled melodrama, sewing that lyrical trope into a mesh of sunny, ’70s styled pop-rock. Gone are the seven-minute Blueberry Boat freakouts, the Widow City electronic flourishes or the brooding melodies that pepper Bitter Tea. These songs are short, saccharine (though not necessarily happy), and easy on the aural digestion.
As usual, Eleanor does most of the singing here, her rich and sometimes androgynous voice easily characterizing a series of stories and emotions. It cracks delicately when singing of a tearful goodbye and jumps sharply expressing the angst of a surprised woman. The instrumentals are equally dynamic, moving from duet piano to retro keyboards, folky guitar to scattered blues riffs, from ballad structures to playful ditties. This is definitely the Friedbergers yet, in a broader sense, I’m Going Away is fresh territory.
As different as it may be for them, FF find sun-drenched lounge-rock a comfortable style. The album’s opener and title track weasels its way into your head, with its hoedown beats and Eleanor’s exclamations to a bothersome lover lingering through the album’s remaining 12 songs. “Cut the Cake” takes a simple major melody and slices into it with dissonant breakdowns and a screeching guitar solo before the last verse – it’s practically a less growling version of “Navy Nurse.” “Lost at Sea” is just simple pop bliss with a dark refrain; its few repeated phrases go a long way.
Much of I’m Going Away plays like a series of conversations and messages set to music, far more personal and direct than any album you’re likely to hear this year. Listening to this album is more like watching a couple quarrel on a reality show or hearing your parents fight. Depressing or not, all these songs have an uncanny depth and power paired with expressive imagery. Yet they still rock, sashay, or croon enough to sound, well, fun. “Even in the Rain” is euphoric and powerful and it’s hard not to bob the head with its punchy guitar falls and steady handclaps. “Staring at the Steeple” is a worthy Deep Purple sound-alike with plenty of sing-a-long potential. The individual parts here make up an interesting genre experiment as a whole, all with their own merits and hooks. These are like television theme songs instead of movie scores, and that brevity makes for a certain musical clarity that would be impossible to achieve in any other format – even for a group as skilled and versatile as Fiery Furnaces. I’m Going Away may not be as abstract or may not sound as gritty as the duo’s past releases but it’s just as much an artistic and entertaining result.