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Perplexing but intriguing

The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
(Fat Possum)
3 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: May 16, 2006
The Fiery Furnaces

Review by Andy Argyrakis

Brother and sister duo Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger are one of the most prolific indie acts of the past half decade, releasing a series of full-lengths and EPs one right after the other without rest. Its latest Bitter Tea comes fresh on the heels of last year's Rehearsing My Choir, a bizarre collaboration with the pair's grandmother (who just so happened to be a church choir director) that traced her growing up in Chicago. Never ones to really settle into a groove or develop a signature sound, the pair's latest again winds in countless different directions steeped in electronic experimentalism that at times truly delights and other times completely mystifies.

The album launches in that latter vein with "In My Little Thatched Hut," which is memorable for the phrase "I lounge and I look" played over a variety of pacings, including a gentle acoustic guitar, garage derived distortion and club oriented trickery. Although it's completely impossible to keep up with or predict where it's going, that manta-like line repeats in each section tying the track loosely together. It's follow-up "In My Mood" also has split personalities, its first where Eleanor appears to mimic Kate Bush over choppy pianos, while switching without warning to a more poppy, dance dipped chorus.

"Whistle Rhapsody" ditches this method of constant runaround, instead relaying on a relatively consistent keyboard undercurrent and Matthew's droned vocals that doesn't truly wig out with total cacophony until the last minute. Its bookend cut is Eleanor's somewhat sunny yet calm electronic ballad "Waiting To Know You," one of the more poppier, accessible selections on the album. In these instances, Fiery Furnaces may be able to expand beyond its fairly fervent box of appreciators, though there is still way too much weirdness and sudden directional shifts to wholeheartedly win over a new crowd. However, those die-hards who already own the equally perplexing but intriguing back catalogue will find this serving of tea to be far from bitter and at just the right temperature for their consumption.

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