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The Fiery Furnaces are a U.S. indie rock band formed in Brooklyn, New York, in 2000. The band's primary members are Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger. The brother and sister are originally from Oak Park, Illinois, a near-western suburb of Chicago.
The band signed with the Rough Trade music label in 2002, and recorded their debut album, Gallowsbird's Bark, the same year. Released in the autumn of 2003, that album garnered critical praise for its clever wordplay and original songwriting and was often compared in the press to The White Stripes due to the garage blues elements of the band’s sound and the fact that the band are siblings, though, in the case of The White Stripes this was a misconception perpetrated and encouraged by the band itself.
Matthew is primarily responsible for the band's songwriting and studio instrumentation, while Eleanor handles the majority of the vocal duties. Drummer Andy Knowles and bassist Toshi Yano both joined the band for live performances in time for their 2004 tour. Beginning with a performance at the April 2004 All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Camber Sands, England, the band's live performances took the form of hour-long, continuous sets of music featuring snippets from most of their recorded songs. Many times, several songs were melded together to create a conglomerate song that encompassed material from previously released songs, this producing similarly complicated set lists for the band to follow
The Fiery Furnaces released their second album, Blueberry Boat, in the summer of 2004. It is also often interpreted as a multi-layered concept album. "Quay Cur," the ten minute lead track on Blueberry Boat, switches from dirty, gurgling organ to slide-guitar-fueled ditties, pulsing electronic beats to abstract lullaby within a few minutes, highlighting the Fiery Furnaces' variety in songwriting. Some critics, however, interpreted this type of material as evidence that the album is unfocused. The epic nature of the majority of the songs made them unsuitable for radio play so the band prepared "Single Again," a take on a traditional nursery rhyme as a substitute.
This single, along with their previously released ones, was mostly only made available to the UK audience, so in January 2005 the band released a 41-minute compilation disc named EP (this confusingly being a designation commonly reserved for shorter discs). EP featured two new songs, all of the band’s singles and b-sides (with the exception of an alternate version of "We Got Back The Plague" found on the "Tropical Ice-Land" single), and was for this reason a contrast to the epic and, according to some, inaccessible nature of Blueberry Boat.
Their following album, Rehearsing My Choir (released in October 2005), saw the band return to an experimental sound once again. A concept album featuring the Friedbergers' grandmother, Olga Sarantos, narrating stories about her life, Rehearsing My Choir was met with widely differing opinions from both the press and the band's fans, being branded "difficult" even by those who rated it highly. Sarantos previously worked as choir director at a Greek Orthodox church, and her croaked reminiscences form the backbone to this peculiar, piecemeal storybook of an album.Jason Loewenstein of Sebadoh and Bob D'Amico took over band duties for the supporting tour, replacing Toshi Yano and Andy Knowles.
The band released their fifth LP, entitled Bitter Tea, in April 2006 titled. In interviews they stated the album to be influenced by the sound of synthpop group Devo and to consist of far more conventional and accessible songs than those found on Blueberry Boat and Rehearsing My Choir.
Matthew Friedberger released Winter Women and Holy Ghost Language School in August 2006, two separate albums which were packaged as a double album. According to a press release, Winter Women is "intended to be a summer record, full of memorable, catchy, and un-ironic pop songs," while Holy Ghost Language School is like "Faust, the Residents, or the most 'out' moments of Brian Eno's solo records." Eleanor appeared on neither and Matthew did not tour in support of his solo releases.
The band did a short tour in October and November of 2006, supported by San Francisco experimental rock band, Deerhoof. This tour saw Matthew on keyboard, Eleanor on vocals, Jason Loewenstein on wah-wah pedaled guitar, Bob D'Amico on drums and the addition of Michael Goodman on percussion. The songs had a tropical/salsa feel to them, and most of the tracks from Bitter Tea were played as one long song, lasting 30 minutes-- a medley format the band hadn't used since promoting Blueberry Boat.
In June 2007, it was announced in The Chicago Reader that the band had signed with Chicago label Thrill Jockey and their album Widow City was later released on October 9, 2007. Unlike their two previous efforts, this album lacks a central concept and has a 70s album rock feel.