Dream Theater

Prog, pop, and twee burn gleefully in the Fiery Furnaces

I avoid most modern American indie-rock records for the same reason I avoid the ham-and-cheese wraps sold at my local supermarket: They are bland, poorly made, and dependent on limp and soggy ingredients. I only bought the Fiery Furnaces' 2004 release Blueberry Boat because I kept hearing complaints about how long the songs were; in my bizarro world, I read this as code for "risky" or "ambitious." Brooklyn brother-and-sister tag team Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger's breakthrough was a tricky, wordy mix of basement prog and jittery pop, with a charisma that didn't fit the first-class Postal Service stamp of mediocrity so many MOR alternative acts stick on their work with misplaced pride. It didn't apologize for its braininess, and it wasn't afraid to fall on its face.

The Furnaces' latest resembles Boat more than it does last year's partially spoken-word family-history oddity Rehearsing My Choir. The band's style, though, still largely consists of nervous tics, never settling for one tune when 10 will do, unleashing sickly funhouse synths at inopportune moments, and rushing to get all those words out. It's a unique and occasionally maddening formula, but what makes this supremely rinky-dink fourth-grade-production-of–Pirates of Penzance racket captivating is the unflappable way they sell all this circuitous dream logic, instead of just reverting to uncaring, insufferable twee, like undergrads with toy instruments busking in the commons to the amusement of no one. Plus, Eleanor's half-deadpan, half-flushed vocalizing gets stronger with every album—she's a grand eulogizer for a dead music-hall style that probably never existed, a perfect fit for the conversationally surreal words she speaks/sings. Tea's Rory Gilmore rock might not be O.C.-friendly, and there are definitely moments when I wish they'd pick an angle and stick with it. But as far as I'm concerned, they can fly to the moon and back as often as they please, as long as the results are this energetic and inventive.

 
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