Fiery Furnaces: EP

By Derek Wright

t’s a misconception that only challenging acts that ignore traditional pop songs are critical darlings.

Despite the complex layers and diverse themes on albums by The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Radiohead, at the rudimentary core of each song rests a basic pop structure. Even the studio mayhem during “Sgt. Pepper’s,” odd horns on “Pet Sounds” or vocal manipulation on “Kid A” can’t mask that.

And you’d be crazy to try.

No band today better exemplifies challenging music with pop-sensible undertones than The Fiery Furnaces – the prolific sibling duo whose third release, “EP,” comes only 15 months after the group’s debut.

Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger must have had an interesting childhood. How else can their bizarre, fairy tale-like stories be explained? If the band wasn’t so endearing, it would be hard to ignore lyrics with goofy alliteration like “Fanny Fitzafrank frowned fie fonna foe/ Seamus Sweatyset swore at the show.”

However, the seemingly inane tales work because countless, meticulous nuances of guitars, keyboards and sound effects keep us anxiously listening for what will come next – even if we have no idea what those sounds may be or what the heck Eleanor’s smokey, lounge vocals are talking about.

On the band’s first two releases, tracks breached 10 minutes and consisted of several distinct mini-songs. But occasionally, down moments derail the momentum.

The band has done away with multi-part epics for the likes of four-minute, experimental gems. No longer are listeners forced to sit through a three-minute doldrum to get to the heart of a song.

Ultimately, this is what makes “EP” work on a level that the band’s prior attempts failed to reach.

By trimming the fat, the siblings get straight to their point.

Even if their point is “Candy Cumberland cooked and cleaned/ Gary Gutterglunk gathered and gleaned.”