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The Fiery Furnaces - I’m Going Away

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Artist: The Fiery Furnaces

Album: I’m Going Away

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Jul. 20, 2009

Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, the familial brains trust behind the Fiery Furnaces, cop flack for their ambition and wilfulness, as though it’s wrong for a duo to write and play as though they’ve twenty more limbs than their biology betrays. I’ve never had much of a problem with it though, long admiring their stumbles and failures. No one needs to hear a concept album sung by the Friedberger’s grandmother (Rehearsing My Choir), or an at times agonisingly abstruse double-live disc (Remember), but they did it, not you, and who’s to deny the Fiery Furnaces their conceptual clarity, even if it comes at a cost to the listening function? That’s an interesting gambit in itself, if one that a lot of part-time (read: uncommitted) Furnaces fans bemoan.

If anything, the Fiery Furnaces lead the listener to some odd conclusions, like the realization that Remember’s fold-in fold-out structure, the way it slips between and returns to songs like mnemonics, recalls the Grateful Dead’s fluid live sets, as documented on approximately 2,000 bootleg tapes. I’m Going Away, then, is the Fiery Furnaces’ American Beauty – deceptively concise songs that often borrow from their makers’ colloquial knowledges (showtunes, jazz, some folk, even a touch of Steely Dan’s “Peg” in “The End Is Near”) as a structuring device.

I’m Going Away is striking for its group sound; the Furnaces play with more air around them, more flexibility and interaction. (If their concept-driven records suffer for anything, it’s the occasional woodenness of their playing.) And there’s more melody in there than we’ve heard for a while – one particularly nice side-effect of “The End Is Near” and “Even In The Rain”’s tightness is their catchiness; anyone who was drawn to the Fiery Furnaces by “Tropical Iceland” will find much to love here.

There’s still freedom to roam, mind – witness Robert D’Amico’s drum solo that closes the ground-hogging “Staring At The Steeple,” the strained, plastic, distinctly prog guitar tone that whinnies through “Keep Me In The Dark,” or the almost cut-up, almost Stein-esque configuration of the closing “Take Me Round Again”’s lyrics. Indeed, lyricist and singer Eleanor Friedberger has given up none of her word-play and oblique strategies: the eponymous protagonist of “Charmaine Champagne” re-appears in “Cups And Punches,” “Drive To Dallas” uses repetition to incrementally notch up tension and sentiment, and Eleanor still sings as though she’s fitting a cross country marathon into a 100 meter sprint.

Reviewers will tell you I’m Going Away is the simplest Fiery Furnaces album since Gallowbird’s Bark, probably because it’s (from blurry memory) the shortest, and on the surface the most linear they’ve recorded for some time. But I prefer to think of it as a consolidation of their transfigurative logic. They still lift genres and Frankenstein them into Red Krayola-esque contraptions of populist discomfort, and this time they seem interested in the seductive affect adhering to pop timings – if not always its structures – can have on a listenership.

By Jon Dale

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