Fiery Furnaces and their influences

This recent Guardian article has the Fiery Furnaces talking about their influences and more - interesting stuff. I was slow to check the Fiery Furnaces out despite hearing a ton of hype about them last year. (A brother and sister duo from Brooklyn - what more do you need?) But their '03 debut Gallowbird's Bark (recorded in three days) is an excellent collection of stripped-down, bluesy rock with quirky lyrics. Pretty rockin', pretty weird, and damn catchy.

Nothing prepared me for their follow-up Blueberry Boat though, due out in July on Rough Trade. Thanks to the magic of P2P's, I've had this album for a couple months now, and it's taken about that long for me to wrap my head around it. It's a sprawling, glorious mess, with hooks buried everywhere. Tracks regularly cross the 7-minute mark (far from the 2-3 minute cuts on their debut), with melodies mutating and themes popping up throughout each. The songs take some wild turns that first bewilder you, then make perfect sense. It's all still rooted in folk and blues, but it's way weirder and there's a ton more going on (especially with synths and electronics). I have no idea how they pull this stuff off live - I'm still digesting the record.

I'm really curious to see what the critics think about Blueberry Boat. I've never heard anything quite like it before. Perhaps it is a bit too much in spots, but I think it's pretty awesome. I'm certainly glad they spent all their time on the album, and not on their website.

The Fiery Furnaces play the Siren Festival at Coney Island on July 17.

The Magnetic Fields

Friday night, I caught the Magnetic Fields on their second night at the Town Hall, my favorite seated venue in NYC. I missed my chance to see Stephin Merritt and crew play all 69 Love Songs at Lincoln Center a couple years back, and I've been cursing myself ever since. They didn't disappoint on Friday, playing a set heavy on the new album i but also filled with older cuts.

I'm not sure if this is their standard setup, but Merritt was on ukelele and Claudia Gonson on piano all night, backed with just guitar/banjo and cello (no percussion, no synths). The stripped down approach forced some new arrangements, often casting a new focus on the songwriting. But Merritt's songwriting is so strong that it worked beautifully. Even though I don't know i too well yet, it produced many highlights - "I Don't Believe You" and "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend" especially. "Come Back from San Francisco" (where Stephin, and not Claudia, sang lead), 2nd encore "All My Little Words", and an impromptu "Reno Dakota" were also great.

Merritt apparently has very sensitive hearing, so Claudia asked the crowd to snap and hiss instead of clapping. They joked around throughout the night and have a great dynamic on stage, unassuming but engaging. It's a shame they don't play more often. But they'll be at Zankel Hall on November 18, and I hope to join them.