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MP3: The Fiery Furnaces – Navy Nurse from Remember (Disc 2)
I have some news for all you Furnaces fans out there: the Fiery Furnaces have released a 2-disc live set from Thrill Jockey Records this week. That either made you cringe, jump for joy or raise an eyebrow high asking “how the hell does that work?”
The main source of contention/confusion: the nature of a live Fiery Furnaces show.
The Fiery Furnaces do not provide an accessible live experience. You could be the biggest fan in the world as far as their recorded output goes, but if you walk into a live show without the slightest bit of knowledge of music theory or if your faculties are somehow slightly impaired, you will have no chance of synthesizing what you are hearing.
The Friedbergers’ infamous live sets are the aural equivalent of the Minotaur’s labyrinth. Complex and intertwined arrangements with time signatures changing furiously as if written in a composer’s fevered dream, nearly unrecognizable rhythmic reinterpretations of familiar songs, complete 180s on vocal stylings…the Furnaces provide one of the most unique and distinct live experiences around, based on some phenomenal talent and musicianship. Daunting, but ultimately rewarding.
The album is structured much like their live shows, with only three large, obtusely-named (eg- “Old HK,” “Black Death Bottle”)tracks spanning each disc. Each mega-track contains, as appropriate for an album representing their live show, an near-innumerable number of re-imaginings and re-purposings of a laundry list of Furnaces songs spanning their career, a complete mish-mash, medley-ized stew.
They even kick it up a meta-notch by taking their live approach, and applying it to multiple live performances. Throughout the album live segments from different shows are spliced together, each recorded with different fidelity (some are tapped straight from the soundboard while others are grabbed from mics in the audience). The effect is disorienting, to say the least, when a hi-fidelity patched recording drops out and a lo-fi tin-can recording from the audience continues, but it gives an odd sort of texture to the sound that can be fascinating in an academic type of way.
But that’s part and parcel of a Furnaces live show. Making you uncomfortable, tossing you unfamiliar into the deep end of the pool and making you figure out what’s what. In this respect, this album succeeds admirably. Maybe more than any single live Furnaces show, the album gives you a true sense of the wandering experimental minds of the Friedbergers, their oft-bewildering, sometimes gorgeous and dazzling, musical ideas. If there is anything this album this album does perfectly, it captures the scope of the Friedburgers’ musical aspirations and the feeling of being at a live show.
Going hand in hand with these accomplishments, are the album’s biggest failures. This is not likely to be an album in heavy rotation. Nor is it particularly listenable in one sitting. It serves best as its title suggests, as an archive for your collection. Something to be pulled out occasionally and reflected upon. There are definitely certain tracks that are meritorious, and plenty to warrant purchasing the album. The mammoth splice-job of “Blueberry Boat” is one of the best tracks on the album, the sugary-soaring piano pop ballad “Evergreen” is brought down-to-earth near the close of disc 1, spliced together from a number of garage rock interpretations including a spectacularly lo-fi, audience recorded segment.
One of the Furnaces’ favorite tracks to distort, “Tropical Iceland,” is rendered fantastically unrecognizable a ways into disc 2. The performance is a dark and distorted, fun-house mirror version of the original light-hearted ditty, stuck in a minor-key groove without any calming major resolution, filled with off-timed frenetic drum breaks and demented guitar tangents. But for those of you unsettled by such things, a normative, happy version of the song can be found at the end of disc 2.
I highly recommend this disc to any Furnaces fan, as it truly captures the live experience, warts and all. But listen in small doses, and pick and choose your tracks. In this case, too much of a good thing can easily turn bad.
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