It’s not often that the creators of an obtuse, shimmering musical work — the kind you want to understand because of its complexity, but can’t fully enjoy — release what might just be the key to comprehending the seemingly rarefied aspects of their body of art. For that key to be a 40-minute collection of songs with the unassuming non-title EP is an important sign, an opportunity for fans, would-be admirers and critics to give another listen: It’s not the band that’s the problem, people just aren’t listening to them the right way.
EP, a 10-song collection of singles and B-sides, comes only months after the release of the 80-minute Blueberry Boat, one of 2004’s most polarizing, tantalizing and inscrutable albums. Where Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger’s latest full-length is like a gallery of dark-colored, many-angled sculptures, EP uses crayons, markers, glitter and construction paper cutouts to communicate the same message, to touch listeners with bright and vibrant sound-pictures that are still highly developed, but easier on the ears than their art school counterparts on Blueberry Boat.
Take, for example, EP’s initial sounds: Rather than the squawking, drawn-out keyboard that opens Blueberry Boat’s first track, “Quay Cur,” listeners are given the immediate drum machine groove and synth hook of “Single Again,” Eleanor’s homage to living unattached. The easy yet quirky rhymes that sound even weirder against their previous album’s spiky musical backdrop mesh perfectly with a more visceral song structure, appealing to the part of the brain that responds to booty-shaking grooves before appealing to the intellect.
The first track segues without pause into the genuinely pretty “Here Comes the Summer,” an ABBA-esque disco-inspired track that punctuates Eleanor’s rich, matter-of-fact vocals with rubbery, distorted guitar notes. The slow, anthemic “Evergreen” is next in this trifecta of compelling, easygoing songs. After she, “took dinner all alone every night of the week awaiting by the phone,” Eleanor asks beautifully: “I bent down by the thistle and thought of what I’d say … Make me stay sharp and keen, evergreen.”
Although EP isn’t a complete collection of the Fiery Furnaces’ singles and rarities, it serves another purpose: It’s not for aficionados alone. This addictive release, with the same kind of dense keyboards and playful, well developed lyrics that confounded and enchanted listeners on Blueberry Boat, will hopefully lure a larger, more varied audience to the band’s music. The tuneful, rhythmic songs on EP aren’t a watered-down version of the Friedberger siblings’s better work; the cool, almost jazzy “Smelling Cigarettes” and an