The Fiery Furnaces

Self-titled EP (Rough Trade)


The Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat was the densest, chewiest album of songs anyone made in 2004, with 75 minutes of ADD-crazed suites and lyrical hypercompression. Their new EP is a less scenic but better-paved road to siblings Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger's peculiar territory: 10 more straightforward, shorter songs, mostly harvested from singles, including a juiced-up remake of their first album's "Tropical Ice-Land." The Furnaces' arrangements are built around ungainly, gargling layers of keyboards, their rhythms lurching and shifting gears with no notice, while their guitars are used mostly for gaudy decoration. The Friedbergers sound like nobody but themselves, even when Eleanor's deadpan croon and Matthew's more ragged tenor are out of the mix. And when they are singing, they're usually coming up with lyrical scenarios nobody's ever tried before ("Goat's head in the deli case"-how's that for an opening line?) or goofing around with language near-obsessively. "Fireman Frank friendly fed fee-free dank/ dusty doughnuts den da dribble drank," goes one of the more comprehensible lines from "Cousin Chris." What holds the EP together is that, for all their songs' word-drunk convolutions, the Furnaces act casual, jitterbugging through them like it's no big deal. And they're capable of uncomplicated charm, too, as when their ridiculously fun, Devo-fied cover of the traditional "Single Again" abruptly segues into "Here Comes the Summer," a melody so graceful and bold it sounds like it has to be a cover, too. (It's not.) Next up, supposedly: an album of duets with the Friedbergers' grandmother. (Douglas Wolk)

Rufus Wainwright

Want Two (Geffen)



Fans of clever, emotive, ornate, exquisitely played and sung pop music should rejoice at the release of this bookend to Rufus Wainwright's masterful 2003 release, Want One. Look no further than the album's tour-de-force, "The Art Teacher," in which Wainwright shows how an early erotic experience, no matter how fleeting or unrequited, can shape us forever. He takes on the voice of a grown woman wistfully recalling a schoolgirl crush from the perspective of her comfortable married life: "Here I am in this uniformish pantsuit sort of thing/ Thinking of the art teacher." Later in the album, in an even more daring feat of poetic will, he imagines himself as Orpheus to fellow second-generation-cult-artist Jeff Buckley's Eurydice in "Memphis Skyline" (Buckley drowned in the Mississippi in 1997). But, as usual, Wainwright takes the piss out of his own pretensions, confessing midsong, "Always hated him for the way he looked." And to show that there are no hard feelings, the band on the enclosed, full-length Live at the Fillmore DVD features Buckley's drummer, Matt Johnson, as well as his ex-girlfriend, vocalist/violinist Joan Wasser, and the performance includes Wainwright's homage to the late singer's interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Elsewhere, over the album's most appealing melody, he heralds the, ahem, "coming" of the "Gay Messiah," and goes for baroque in an orchestral missive to his "Little Sister," Martha, whose expert harmonies adorn the album. And finally, Wainwright proves his essential artistic obstinacy by his decision to draw the entire two-album opus to a close with the cacophonous, nine-minute blow-job paean "Old Whore's Diet." Yeah, it kinda sucks-but in a good way. (Jeff Rosenberg)