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Reviewing the Reviews

The Fiery Furnaces — the frequently conceptual Brooklyn indie/art rock band with siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger at its creative core — is typically branded with such adjectives as "difficult," "challenging," "dizzying," and "unpredictable." They're also pretty damn prolific, averaging an album a year since 2003. The group's latest is Widow City, released on Thrill Jockey in October. We got on the phone with personable, quite droll Matthew to get his take on a few recent reviews of the album, although some confusion ensued at the outset.

"The songs here unfurl as songs, not just knotty puzzles. It's as if extensive touring had encouraged a deeper clarity, without dimming the band's strange incandescence." (The New York Times)

That's great! Songs, huh. I dunno, sometimes things are more interesting when they're puzzles. I know sometimes I hear something, [and] after I figure it out, I like it less. There's nothing interesting anymore about it. Clarity . . . I dunno if that's the most exciting thing you want from rock music. Wait, is this a review of my band? Right, that makes sense. Wait, are these all gonna be Fiery Furnaces reviews? Ohhhh, I didn't realize, I thought they were random other things. Oh. Well, I think the review is very nice.

"Reveling in a playground based on distorted riffs and deep-space synths from the era of 'album rock,' their distended sounds swim about like hundreds of liberated sea monkeys." (

Yeah, that sounds wonderful, what a beautiful image. I think that's good; that's great. Hundreds of liberated sea monkeys. That's what it sounds like, to me. Ummm, that's . . . that review's trying to make it sound interesting, and I guess they think sea monkeys — I think of sea monkeys as being very '70s and '80s. Do people have sea monkeys now? I don't think so, so I guess that fits. That's the kind of thing somebody might think would be a lyric in one of our songs. I wouldn't have ever used sea monkeys in a lyric, and I dunno about Eleanor. I think they're trying to write something that matched what they think is going on in our records, so that's nice. I wouldn't say it sounds like that, but, uhhh, that's fine if someone else . . . that's good. A bunch of sea monkeys. I like what the other guy said better, the knotty puzzles. Or naughty . . . naughty puzzles.

"Widow City is a holding pattern — a severe betrayal of the joy, the consternation, and the intellectual and visceral reward of every prior Fiery Furnaces record. It's the sound of a band defining their parameters, setting limits on themselves." (

Well, I mean, first of all, that's a good review of all our other records. It says our other records are great. So if he doesn't like this one, at least he likes the other ones. The one thing I'd say about Widow City is that it's meant to be a rock rhythm-section record. But if they're disappointed in this record, that it sounded, I dunno, not as interesting, okay. It's not a holding pattern. It sounds different than our other records. But we definitely are a band where we don't expect people to like everything we do. Hopefully, they'll like three out of five. So that reaction is perfectly fine.

"An astonishing act of rejuvenation and reclamation, the album may just be the group's best to date, and solidly re-establishes Eleanor and Matthew as progenitors of brilliantly exciting, mind-scrambling pop." (Stylus)

Great. That's nice. But they didn't like our last record, apparently. That's great if they say we're good. It's more fun to read insults than it is to read nice things, 'cause it makes you uncomfortable if people say how great it is. At some level, you already like the record, so it's no news to you that it's good. You know what I mean?

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Michael Alan Goldberg