Each Fiery Furnaces album sounds like the work of a different band or, at the very least, a band that's getting progressively less concerned with the conventions of pop music every time it enters a studio. Their debut was optimistic blues and garage rock that earned misguided comparisons to The White Stripes. But 2004's Blueberry Boat gave rise to inward-looking, meandering symphonies, triggering a tongue-in-cheek electronic pop EP the following year.
Still, few could have predicted the next move from Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, the Brooklyn-based brother and sister in the band: Rehearsing My Choir was an album of half-backward electronic kaleidoscope paranoia beneath the sound of their 80-year-old grandmother singing. Barely four years into their career, The Fiery Furnaces have continued to push the envelope and their audience's tolerance for the unexpected more than most bands will in decades of work.
Such compulsive innovation is not limited to albums. The Furnaces' live show has evolved in tandem with their studio work. By 2004, they had earned a reputation for their compact performances, which found Eleanor Friedberger blasting through a medley of nearly every lyric of the band's catalogue up to that point while her brother ripped apart and reconstructed their already confusingly patchwork of sounds. By the time Rehearsing My Choir arrived, the live show had morphed into a more approachable beast built from guitars, drums and bass.
Now The Fiery Furnaces are on tour again, and there's a new album, Widow City, on the horizon for fall. And, true to form, the live format won't look anything like previous permutations, says Matt Friedberger. "It's two long medleys," he says. "One is from Bitter Tea, all songs from Bitter Tea, and then another one is the older songs and a couple new songs."
They've used the medley format before, but Friedberger says this tour will sound "most different" from anything they've done before. And even though Friedberger calls Widow City an album of "more normal rock sounds," the new album adds the Chamberlin, an electronic sampling device invented in the late '40s and used in the '60s and '70s by The Beatles and Foghat (the latter once owned the Chamberlins on Widow City).
"The record is electric guitar and electric bass and Chamberlins," Friedberger says. "And Eleanor's singing. I sing a little bit."
It's even more of a guessing game since, in the past, Friedberger has misled the public about the sound of his upcoming records. For instance, Friedberger called the 2006 release of Bitter Tea, possibly the most sonically sprawling of all their releases, a catchy pop record, and he said nearly the same leading up to his esoteric solo double album, released about a year ago. So let the reader beware that when he says Widow City has "more normal rock sounds," that means more normal rock sounds for The Fiery Furnaces. That may mean nothing at all.
The Fiery Furnaces play The Lincoln Theatre Friday, July 6, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $14 in advance and $16 at the door. Dios opens.