Song Illegal Leak of the Week: Fiery Furnaces, Widow City
posted by July 24 at 10:19 AMon
(Leak of the Week logo image courtesy of Google Street Views)
Looks like the Fiery Furnaces’ indie cred has run out, if the trolls at my favorite MP3 haunt are to be believed. One downloader was to the point about new record Widow City, due out in October: “This record is fucking vile. It’s Nazis, Herpes and Daniel Radcliffe all rolled into one.” Lovers make their hipster guilt apparent as well: “Pretension and questionable history aside, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit my soft spot for their schtick. Ouch.”
Of course, a good, ol’ fashioned Internet album leak is nothing without ire (posted by these fans only 24 hours after the leak, no less), and since the MP3s also included a 1,000 word long essay about the band by the band, you can’t blame the kids for the backlash. Indeed, this bio is much like the album itself—overlong and overwrought, yet ultimately amusing, dizzying and satisfying.
The bio calls out twelfth song “Restorative Beer” as the “hit single,” and at first impression, it fits the incredibly cocky bill. The stripped-down piece of Harrison-ian blues is flush with organs, guitar solos and—holy moses—a hook. As a change of pace, singer Eleanor Friedberger mutes her well-known stream-of-consciousness sing-chatter to let brother Matthew flex his musical muscle. Though the rest of the album goes in the usual 50 million directions, from hip-hoppin’ beats to stoner-rock riffs, “Beer” proves the band is moving, if slowly, away from Zappa-loving cacophonies and toward more digestible material. Hope that doesn’t piss off the trolls in October.
(Sure, we’re teases. Since we can’t post the MP3, enjoy the aforementioned overlong band bio after the jump.)
Widow City is the Fiery Furnaces' sixth album.
The lyrics were written by means of a method derived from the
Baccalieri children's use of a Ouija board in season four of
The Sopranos, and, further, a mention of Scripts for the
Pageant in an article in the Windy City Times. What this means
is as follows. Between seven and eight in the morning the
brother in the band would pretend to ask a Ouija board what
his sister would like to sing about. He would then pretend
that the Ouija board gave him various answers. After this was
accomplished he would pretend to write the answers down.
This strenuous work of the imagination, or Imaginary Work,
could occur as many times as once a month.
Or sometimes, in the afternoon, the tapping table might tell
the brother to stare across the room at a book that looked,
for example, like a bible. "Imagine what it said," it said, it
seemed. The strict subjugation of an imaginary bible to an
imaginary board game could have produced the lyrics to, for
instance, the title track.
The sister's job consisted of this. She would clench in her
fists the names of selected lady magazine authoresses from the
years 1968-1976 and, extending out her index fingers, type up
what the old ladies “told” her. Or rather, “told” them,
meaning her index fingers. She'd then send the notes to her
brother, who would modify and add to them according to what he
imagined were their "secret intentions." If the sister
objected, the brother would assign responsibility to the Ouija
In a word, therefore, to sum up, the lyrics were caused, so to
1. Ads, for instance, at back of design magazines from the
2. The cultural pages, if any, of local community minority or
alternative lifestyle newspapers.
3. Depictions of grieving children using the aforementioned
The music to Widow City was composed by the brother in the
band in the following manner. In his right hand, he would hold
the broken jewel cases of scratched, and therefore discarded,
Van Morrison cds, while with his left hand he would play the
Alternatively, he would stare at the Atlantic labels on Led
Zeppelin LPs in the dark and write down the tunes inspired
thereby, also in the dark.
This procedure left much to chance. The tunes to Widow City
ended up not much like Van Morrison or Led Zeppelin. Instead,
they sounded, to the brother, as if engaged in some sort of
general Paul McCartney-izing, though with a different drummer.
The drummer on this record is Robert D'Amico, 37, who has
played live with the Fiery Furnaces the past two years. The
personality of his playing is patently present on this
particular platter. The disposal of his talents across the
surface of the album makes the most obvious difference with
past band product.
The Paul McCartney-izing mentioned previous must have to do
with how simple and schematic the tracks are. Simplicity and
schematicism are most successfully exaggerated in "Clear
Signal from Cairo." The words to this song, unlike many of the
others, serve to further emphasize, rather than hide, those
By the way – Eleanor especially likes, and especially her
performance on, "Navy Nurse," especially since it does sound
something like Van Morrison or Led Zeppelin. Sort of; and
"Navy Nurse" has an oblique relation to an earlier Fiery
By the way – as for comparisons with other records/acts, Bob
"Wicker Whatnots" D'Amico once wrote to me that the stuff
reminded him of King Crimson's Lizard album and Larry Harlow's
El Jardinero del Amor. He has also repeatedly "whispered" to
Eleanor that "Restorative Beer" is a hit single. The mastering
engineer (the mastering engineer on all the Fiery Furnaces
records except the first one) Joe Lambert, when prompted, said
that a small section reminded him of Gentle Giant. The
recording engineer (recording engineer on the last three Fiery
Furnaces' albums) Bill Skibbe said, unprompted, that the song
"The Philadelphia Grand Jury" reminded him of Ike and Tina
Turner's "Nutbush City Limits". And the imaginary record
producer, the producer of the record (see credits) often
pretends to be when talking in a talk-back
microphone--Jimmy--thinks the record sounds like, "A million
The record's string, woodwind, and brass sounds were played on
a Chamberlin. If one doesn't know what that thing is, one can
no doubt find out. The brother plays every instrument on the
record save the drums. The sister sings every word on the
record except a few.
As on past Fiery Furnaces' albums, the backing tracks have a
narrative aspect, excuse the expression. For instance, the
long 'bassoon' and altered tabla part in "The Philadelphia
Grand Jury" might indicate the singer in the song's waiting
for the word (verdict). The loud guitar-drums-and-Chamberlin
'thunderstorm' part towards the end of "Ex-Guru" indicates the
thunderstorm brought about by the jilted ex-guru. The
synthesizer filtering of the acoustic guitar in "Duplexes of
the Dead" indicates the odd light that filters through the
dirty curtains a duplex of the dead would no doubt have. The
swelling melody at the end of "My Egyptian Grammar" indicates
the pride that likely swells up in the breast of a blue jay
referred to therein. The monkey and cow noises in "The Old Hag
is Sleeping" indicate the rooster at dawn. The guitar solo at
the end of "Cabaret of the Seven Devils" counts to seven. The
train sound effect in "Japanese Slippers" indicates a train.
And so forth.
To sum up, the music on Widow City sounds lively, tuneful,
simple/schematic, like a variety of previous records, with
loud electric guitars, with very over-compressed bass guitars,
drum-solo-having, Chamberlin-ized, and storytelling-ish. And
Matthew Friedberger, 34, and Eleanor Friedberger, 30, are very
confident that Widow City will not only appeal to, but find
use with, the causal rock-n-roll fan both older and younger
The band has no advanced degrees or criminal convictions. Its
charitable activities are none at present.
Widow City was recorded in January and February of 2007, often
in heavy snow, everyone stranded as if "immobilized by
powerful chains of molecules." For further information, see
the credits and lyrics on the album packaging or provided in