The Fiery Furnaces' two main members are brother and sister. Riiiiight
. Heard that
Other than ostensible lineup similarities, the blues-rock influence and a certain studied amateurishness, Gallowsbird's Bark doesn't overly echo the work of a certain candy-striped duo. Eleanor Friedberger's raucously blasé sing-speaking inflections initially make it difficult to put Jack White out of your mind (although, as she's originally from Texas, she has more right to the twang than he does). However, The Fiery Furnaces are so orchestrated, so simultaneously old-timey and out-there, that after the first few tracks all comparisons are blown away, as irrelevant as an oil baron in the Friedbergers' current home of Brooklyn.
Gallowsbird's Bark is an ambitious (at sixteen tracks, some might say cocky) debut. It pulls from a grab bag of influences, from Bob Dylan to Broadway, The Who to honky-tonk, and tosses them around with apparent abandon. In spite of this (or maybe because of it), The FFs spin all of this into a sound that's consistent, yet almost magically unique; Eleanor's off-the-wall yet Everyman-(or Everywoman-)ish lyrics, Matthew Friedberger's finger-twisting ragtime guitar solos and drummer Ryan Sawyer's swingy rhythms (he's part of the band too, y'know -- at least on this record) add up to much more than a sum of parts. Some of this is because the band is willing to take some risks, and the current musical climate definitely encourages their blend of experimentation and traditionalism. Still, few could get away with smacking "Leaky Tunnel"'s stagey, tension-building analog synth arpeggios up against the folksy barroom sing-along of "Up in the North" without starting a dilettantes' brawl.
A major part of The Fiery Furnaces' charm is Eleanor herself. She exudes a cantankerous rootsiness, like a rather surly country mouse who's taken over the city instead of scurrying back to the farm. In her mouth, "I pierced my ears with a three-hole punch / Ate twelve dozen donuts for lunch" sounds like a perfectly reasonable, even insightful, thing to say in a song. The bands that inspire the most fervent devotion in their fans tend to have charismatic frontpeople, and Eleanor has the appropriate combination of larger-than-life showmanship and down-to-earth Bedford Avenue cynicism. If the Fiery Furnaces can keep putting out records that clear the bar they've set on Gallowsbird's Bark, they should earn quite a large following without ever resorting to uniforms... Peppermint, anyone?