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July 21st, 2004 Matt Wright, Jason M. Rivera | Album Reviews
 

Matthew Dear / The Fiery Furnaces

     
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The Fiery Furnaces

Matthew Dear

Backstroke

Spectral Sound

Leave Luck to Heaven, the last album from Detroit-based techno producer Matthew Dear, began with a gorgeous, dubbed-out synth loop and proceeded to map out the previously under-explored territory between minimal tech-house and moody electro-pop. But there is another side of the producer, revealed in Leave Luck's hidden intro. There Dear and an anonymous female voice take turns reciting the words "You're fucking crazy" over bristling static and digital noise. It is this darker, more experimental sound that informs Backstroke, Dear's new eight-song EP released on Spectral Sound, the dance imprint of Ann Arbor's Ghostly International label. While alienation and bliss were the twin poles of Dear's debut, this album is wholly centered on a unified theme of deep foreboding and dread. The lyrics imply a world where the Alanis Morissette version of irony is nothing to write adult alternative pop songs about, but rather a source of perpetual fear. Instead of "10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife," Dear delivers lyrics about bullets shot from broken guns and games that go on "even though the scoring's wrong." Clearly, Dear is feeling a bit spooked. The musical settings underpinning these lyrics range from the more straightforward electro-pop and minimal techno settings of his debut, to more exotic fare, including trip-hop ("I Know Howser") and chopped synth-punk ("Good Girl" and "Tide"). The album closes with "And in the Night," in which sliced-up diva vocals and salsa beats create a kind of inverted club anthem. Dear repeats the phrase "Sometimes I think about you" ad infinitum while the rhythm builds and builds--and keeps building. It's a smart trick, twisting dance music's signature one-two punch of rising tension and euphoric release into the aural equivalent of rising anxiety, without the catharsis or the panic attack. And, yes, it's fucking crazy. (Matt Wright)

The Fiery Furnaces

Blueberry Boat

Rough Trade

After a year of constant White Stripes comparisons, New York's Fiery Furnaces have released Blueberry Boat, an album that should kill any association with the great red-and-white ones. Last year, the Furnaces released Gallowsbird's Bark, a stripped-down garage/blues rock album that garnered the brother-and-sister team the unfair label of a lesser White Stripes. Blueberry Boat, the duo's second album, takes the Fiery Furnaces' previous quirks (bizarre, short keyboard parts and sudden radical style changes in the middle of songs) and refines them, calling to mind a Broadway musical recreated with a synthesizer. Half the songs of the 77-minute album average 8 to 10 minutes in length, yet they never drag or bore. Even the shortest songs on the album manage to combine at minimum two completely different pieces that flow together as one song. At their best, the Fiery Furnaces compose multiple lengthy melodies that form a full musical piece driven by stories as endearing as a BBC miniseries: the tumultuous life of a detective trying to deal with his past mistakes, a new case and a former lover; a blueberry-boat captain who defies invading pirates to the bitter end; and a tale of a frantic search for a lost dog. All help to make this a grand album, one the group has said is loosely based on Brian Eno's rock-opera classic Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy). Surely Eno comparisons are preferable to the red, white or blues ones. (Jason M. Rivera)

 
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