Those Fiery Friedberger siblings have long let it be known that they will not sit still. Even if they have to battle their record label, they will still knock out their live shows in under an hour with nary a pause, will still have the next album ready before the prior one's released, and will still pursue their goal of wanting to make as many records as they possibly can. We love such enthusiasm, energy, and blatant disregard for biz protocols, but such a stand shouldn't be confused with a devotion to their artistry. Because it's starting to seem like the Fiery Furnaces aren't the hardest working band in rock 'n' roll, just the fastest.
Their fourth longplayer, Bitter Tea, is such an easy riff on their now-established
templates Matthew on clamoring piano, Eleanor on off-the-cuff non-sequiturs that
it borders on lazy indulgence, showing worrying signs that the Fiery Furnaces
are on an artistic slide they may have little interest in arresting. After their
densely-layered debut disc, Gallowsbird's Bark, proved to be that rarest
of records the mythical Sleeper, where the music's genius is revealed
with more clarity on each repeated exposure the duo have strayed further
and further from the Sleeper standard with each album, being more immediate,
but less manic, less cluttered, less intriguing, less impressive. Where that
first-turn gear delighted in compressing countless ideas into songs that radically
reinvented themselves as they went, Bitter Tea isn't so tightly wound.
In fact, for a band whose live shows are unbelievably well-drilled, this is a
loose, directionless set. Coming on the high-concept heels of their ridiculous
radio-play musical Rehearsing My Choir, it's strange to hear the Furnaces functioning
with so little focus. Bitter Tea offers immediacy, but little reward for
return visits; offers vastness at a dawdling 73 minutes but nothing
in the way of big ideas. Albums like these are often touted as being "one for
the fans," but, as paid-up FFs fan, I'm more interested in their albums being
amazing than just plentiful.