It’s catchy. It’s cryptic. It’s hard not to love.
The indie rock band The Fiery Furnaces are slated to release their latest album “I’m Going Away” on Tuesday, July 21. Continuing in a garage blues style, their music sounds like a subdued form of the White Stripes. Yet unlike pseudo-siblings Jack and Meg White, primary members Matt and Eleanor Friedburger are biologically related.
The title track that opens the album is a bit too repetitive to be enjoyable, though the mood shifts with tracks such as “The Drive to Dallas” and “The End is Near,” which set the tone for the remainder of the album. Their style, a punk-meets-folk-meets-blues is remniscient of the Violent Femmes and – at other times – such 80′s acts as Depeche Mode.
Eleanor is responsible for lead vocals as well as the lyrics, whose unorthodox vocal rhythms are showcased on such tracks as “Charmaine Champaign,” where the Violent Femmes comparison may be most apt. Other tracks such as “Even in the Rain,” which is way too catchy for its own good, offer a more traditional, jazz-influenced approach.
Musically the album stays predominantly in the garage-blues category, heavy on piano, though Matt, responsible for both the music and some production for the band, occasionally delves into the realm of experimental such as on the track “Keep me in the Dark.”
Yet it is the philosophy that drives the album that fascinates me. According to the record label, the album is influenced by the underlying power of story:
“All rock music is a sort of dramatic music. And since the times are tough, it makes sense to have that “drama” be something more like a version of Taxi than something like a version of Titanic. We like Taxi better than Titanic anyway. So we hope that some of the songs on this record can be used as theme songs to folk’s own personal versions of Taxi.”
Indeed, the lyrics of the album weave narrative elements together that you can’t help but identify with. Yet the record company goes on to give the reason why so many people might identify with this album:
“Because—ideally—the dramatic setting of the music isn’t provided by the story or image of the given act or band. It’s provided by the lives of the people who use—listen to—the music. That is pop music’s promise and problem, or danger. So be careful and don’t get canceled.”
In other words, since the music is the soundtrack to the lives of its listeners, meaning is found not in the artists’ intent but the listeners’ perception: the meaning of the album only exists in the minds of its listeners.
It is little wonder then that so many of the lyrics of the album tell cryptic stories with no apparent context to influence their meaning, and other lyrics seem altogether absurd. “Charmaine Champaigne,” as well as “Cups and Punches” include the lyric “folked up” or some variation thereof.
There is no question that listeners will identify with these lyrics which tell of broken relationship and heartache. Otherwise they may fall victim to pop music’s own prophecy, and find themselves “getting canceled.”
The depression-era saw similar phenomena, where the arts became an expressive medium where the stories of individuals took the form of novels and music.
FINDING YOUR STORY
The need to arrange our lives in a meaningful way is something I’ve posted on before, and I will again emphasize the way today’s culture is searching for a sense of meaning and purpose. In Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, one of the characters makes this same observation:
The carapace of coolness is too much for Claire, also. She breaks the silence by saying that it’s not healthy to live life as a succession of isolated little cool moments. “Either our lives become stories, or there’s just no way to get through them.” I agree. Dag agrees. We know that is why the three of us left our lives behind and came to the desert – to tell our own stories and make our own lives more meaningful in the process.
What’s your story? With what do you most personally identify? Chances are the arts offer a powerful insight to the lives and needs of its audience. And fascinatingly, in this album, the needs of the audience are expected to shape the album’s interpretation.
Sadly, many people looking for meaning only find mirrors that reflect their inner confusion. While I appreciate the sentiments this album brings, I must emphasize the need to look beyond ourselves to find meaning.
All in all, it’s a fun album, and extremely catchy. Though whether the album is meaningful is ultimately, up to you to decide.