The Fiery Furnaces | Remember (Thrill Jockey)

cd_fiery_75.jpgRemember is a two-disc (three-LP) behemoth of a live album, spitting out a total of 51 tracks of songs you’ve heard before but never like this.



Anyone who has heard any of the Fiery Furnaces’ albums knows that they have a tendency to write long, very complicated songs that often sound like three or four completely different songs, only later to return to a familiar rhythm or theme that reminds you that you are listening to the same song after all that time. And anyone who has seen the Furnaces live (not counting last year’s Widow City tour, when they were more straightforward) knows that they like to shuffle up all of these song fragments into something resembling one really long, really complicated 60- to 80-minute long song when performing live. Somehow, they end up making the one long medley different every time they perform, switching up melodies, instruments, singers, and whatever else they can afford to in such a brain-spinning fashion that it can sometimes veer towards intimidating to see them. Although they’re at least as good about touring as they are about releasing albums (seven or so albums in six or so years), just in case you’ve never caught up with them, the experience of seeing them live has been recorded for posterity on their new Thrill Jockey release, Remember.

Remember is a two-disc (three-LP) behemoth of a live album, spitting out a total of 51 tracks of songs you’ve heard before (assuming you’re a Furnaces fan), but never like this, even if you’re an FF roadie. The tracks on Remember were culled from live performances all over the world beginning in 2005, and cobbled altogether in a fashion that is a cohesive whole (it certainly doesn’t sound like this was more than one show), staying true to their mechanic of never performing things the same way twice, all full of reprises and shortened versions of some songs and longer versions of others, etc. It is praise of the highest order when I say that the two discs appropriately recreate the feel of seeing one of their incredible live shows. I’m also pleased to report that they pay attention to my favorite songs of theirs ("Benton Harbor Blues," "Tropical Ice-Land," "Chief Inspector Blancheflower," "Here Comes the Summer"; I could go on and on…), with Bitter Tea‘s best track, "Teach Me Sweetheart," sounding particularly good toward the end of disc one.

And preserved their live show may be, but perhaps not for long, as Remember is apparently a limited edition release (just how limited, I do not know), replete with coupons with which you can download even more songs to supplement the already gargantuan album. I managed to interview Matt Friedberger, one half of the Fiery Furnaces, around this time last year, and he told me in response to my questioning how they pull off live shows like this that, as an audience member, he finds it much more satisfying and interesting to see a band he likes try something new with the material and fail miserably, rather than just playing the songs the exact same way as they appear on their albums. Even more satisfying than that is when these new, live interpretations are often as good or better as the originals, adding insight and complications to our understanding of the artists’ relationships with said songs, which is exactly what the Fiery Furnaces do here. I’d be hard pressed to think of a modern live album that sounds as vital. A | Pete Timmermann

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