Spin Control


April 16, 2006



Fiery Furnaces, "Bitter Tea" (Fat Possum) *

Much too scattered and unfocused and way too prolific for their own good, "Bitter Tea" is the fifth studio effort in three years from the Oak Park natives and brother-sister duo of multi-instrumentalist Matthew and singer Eleanor Friedberger. The indie-rock darlings describe this album in their press materials as "a very girly record -- the granddaughter record, as opposed to the grandmother record."

By that, Fiery Furnaces mean that where their last release, 2005's "Rehearsing My Choir," was designed as a narrative song cycle based on the memories of their 80-year-old grandma, Olga Sarantos, "Bitter Tea" is allegedly some sort of sprawling conceptual effort about the life and loves of a modern young woman, presumably Eleanor, who was hailed as a muse on the second album from her boyfriend Alex Kapranos' band, Franz Ferdinand. I say "allegedly" and "presumably" because I'll be damned if I can figure out any of the pretentiously arch-poetic lyrics; the songs that make the most sense to me are "Black-Hearted Boy" and "The Vietnamese Telephone Ministry" -- the ones with the backwards vocals.

The impressionistic lyrics certainly aren't the only problem here. Obviously better at spinning the press than spinning a decent, coherent melody, Matt Friedberger encourages us to think of the band's sound as "sissy psychedelic Satanism." Try "a sprawling, pointlessly complex mess" instead. Think of a wannabe Tom Waits channeling "Looney Tunes" composer Carl Stalling, without a sense of humor but with a con man's desire to peddle garbage-pail eclecticism as high art.

Better yet, don't give the band a second thought, unless or until they drop the artsy posing and figure out what they're really trying to do.

Jim DeRogatis