Things are looking better. Just this minute I found myself whistling the shanty part (well the counter-shanty) of "1917". The song starts out with Matthew going '6-4-6, 6-4-6' or counting with the number 6 bookending something else. Anyway, maybe that's their way of explaining how the rhythm goes. Though with my counting and snapping just now it doesn't work.
Anyway, I thought a lot as I listened. Here's somethings I thought, in list form before I get tired of list form:
1. Instruments and their use. I like the drums of "1917" a lot. They remind me of the drums in a Manitoba song I like. Most of the other drums are just slightly better than Pavement's which isn't a compliment to the drummer's ability, but might be a compliment to the overall album's quality. The problem is that the drumming is over-competent. The bass, however, comes off as less-competent than the last album. Some keen runs that I'd mentally noted earlier seemed sloppier this time through, though some important keen runs seem like they were overdubbed, so we could note at that point that the bass was played well. The piano parts sound not too hard, but they are played really well, and that fairy godmother thing that I said earlier, yeah, that still. I hope there are actual strings that are being played. There's a violin part and a cello part in different songs, I mean, it sounds like it, and that's whats important, but I hope in the liner notes there are strings credited to somebody. I think I want that a lot too, a detailed list of all the instruments used and who played them.
The synths in "Quay Cur" and "Blueberry Boat" seem a little too central to the song. I keep expecting this to be a problem but it isn't. Someone said that parts of the album (or maybe just the title track) sound circus-y. I never like comparing anythign to the circus, so I'm not even going to agree with that comparison in spirit. Sometimes the synths sound really important and big. There are times when they replace the guitar 'The Pain.... The Pain...', that part, and then in the song "Inspector Blancheflower" when Matthew goes all John Mellencamp (which excited me) the keyboard in there gets pretty big.
The guitar playing throughout leads me to believe that the Fiery Furnaces are afraid of the guitar, which I really like. The acoustic playing is dorm-standard (so is "Hey Ya") and the electric playing is like a wildcat thinking about skipping church to go to the fair. I mean there's parts where there's supposed to be a guitar solo, (the two minute mark of "Mason City") and its like the guitar starts going and then starts panicking and its like watching a kid flip out on stage during the talent show because his parents are sitting in the front row and that's his way of saying 'screw you, I'll date Lisa if I want to, so what if her nose is pierced!' and Lisa's in the back, and in the middle of him starting to play with all of this rage, he notices her holding hands with Frank, which he doesn't know how to deal with so he pumps the crazitude up to 7 and then up to eight and holds it. And after he finishes playing, he storms off stage and his parents are standing up clapping, cause his dad remembers what it was like hearing his friends describe Hendrix at Woodstock. And then he confronts Lisa in the parking lot and he's sure that he'll never love again, but he's just made a star of himself. Because the sophmores back in the gym are still pondering the few Lunar notes (in the Beefheart sense) which he'd dealt with nicely.
More than just the guitar-phobia, though, there's the rock phrasing in the parts that I hope I haven't referred to as prog. If I did, I think I took it out and if I took it out and its still there its because when I published my initial reaction, Blogger decided to publish all of the edits as well (which were like seven or eight edits, and sucker, that's a long post), so I had to go back and delete them and it was published in a weird out-of-order order, so I have the saved final copy in my 'my documents' folder if you want proof that I didn't mean to refer to those parts as prog. Anyway, there's a rock sensibility there that comes from years of absorbing the Who in the basement (like Matthew did). Anyway, the drums are still too weak for that. The Who I mean.
2. Voices and their use. Eleanor sounds like Kate Bush or Goldfrapp through most of "Quay Cur", which I kind of like, but might turn other people off. She never really belts anything, it might be cool if she did someday. I want to describe a lot of what she does as speak-singing, but really, she just sings with a really natural phrasing. Like Jody Beth Rosen noted in her review of the Fiery Furnaces live, she sings a lot like a jazz singer, and there's even a funky old people moment in "My Dog Was Lost" where she says 'I went to the corner, called "the Corner"' and the drums go ba-dum-chhh and its really funny and after its lost its humor, at least you bob your head to the drums there. Through the album's various moods, she adjusts slightly, but she always seems like Neko Case in terms of how Carl Newman uses her for Bombast. That's an interesting reference point, the New Pornographers. But Newman is always too trapped in the Cheap Trick Seventies with Sixties songwriting, so who knows if he'll ever record anything this mind-blowing.
Matthew singing was a really cool moment on the first album, he opened up the song "Inca Rag" and it was really a cool, surprising moment, like when in "Stereo" Mark Ibold says 'I know him, and he does', because Steve was such a dominating force of the band. (I have avoided Scott Kannberg's singing in the Scott Kannberg songs, whenever that happens, I think of it like the lady with the Tonight Show band giving Jay Leno a little bit of time off during commercials. Everybody leaves the room and takes a commercial break.) Anyway. Matthew doesn't have as strong of a voice as Eleanors, which is okay. Whenever the song goes into him it still comes as a surprise, because the Furnaces are so much of Eleanor's voice's band. Also he has some really star moments, like the off-broadway scene in "Inspector Blancheflower", which the sixth time through is less hilarious, but still brilliant. And then at the end of that song, he starts singing and he sounds like John Mellencamp, well not his voice, but his 'tude. (and then at the end of that song he launches into another brilliant guitar non-solo).
Their voices have lost some of that baked-in sass that may have alienated some from the first record. This is analagous to how cartoon characters voices are always weird and WRONG in the first episode after you've seen season two all the way to the end of the disc, at least.
Like I said though, the lyrics are, well, let's say 75%, which isn't as great as the last album's 85%. I love the sense in which 'The pain... the pain...' is written and sung, which leads me into thinking about the brilliance of the narrative (non-narrative). I can't think about that though.
3. Form and its use. I'm still working on this part. Two or three songs do this thing where they end with a repeated chorus figure, which is not actually a chorus, its either one line, or a verse disguised as a chorus (an idea I'm going to have to rip off), which is a good device, but one that's probably over-used on rock records. Songs aren't hooky. The hooks on the album for me are primarilly rhythmic, 'cause I got there too late' - feels like a rush, the guitar and ding ding ding ding ding ding part in "Inspector Blancheflower", a couple other parts that I'm not going to seek out right now. Another thing I'm not going to do right now, but might do eventually is to count how many songs there actually are on this album. 13. Yeah. But I mean, the songs within songs. "Chris Michaels" has at least three songs in it. There was another song that felt like it was making a medley of itself.
A couple songs reference other forms, but not explicitly and not tongue-in-cheekly. "I Lost My Dog" makes a pun on losing a dog like you've 'lost' your rotten teenager. Its kind of a gospel song, but no more than its a kooky rock song. Really the organ and some slight phrasing that Eleanor puts in make it a gospel song long enough for the joke to kick in. "1917", a song I think I'm enjoying more plays with the sea shanty form, its in three, but not really, and there's a couple different things happening. The guitar may have been recorded differently from the keyboard noise. Pause. Okay, I find that in describing not just this album, but a lot of albums, that I usually use quirky words to describe keyboard noises. Now, I'm thinking about using the same quirky words to describe guitar sounds also. But there's the share of normal sounding things too, maybe more than in the last album. Unpause. The keyboard whomps and the guitar skronks are only sometimes in sync. And the drums are way off. But there's that 3 pattern, the drums that I don't want to talk about and then the singing which makes things make sense, and then when the reedy melody comes in, it seems like three things are going on at the same time. Drums. Hey, watch it.
Okay. I think that's all I'm going to say about the album for now. This is what its like when I'm obsessed. Now i'm trying to picture what the album cover will look like. Also, the trio of album-closers is a really great trio. It would be really good to play those three songs to somebody to endear them to the album before they hear the difficult first three songs. I did not yet tell you all of the thoughts that I had.