Fiery Furnaces

Thurs Jan 22


If navigating the twisted psychology of Playing in a Band With Others wasn't already an arduous task, imagine playing in a band where the only other member is your little sister. A whole other set of rules applies, not to mention a whole lifetime of grudges. But Matthew Friedberger, who plays in the NY rock band Fiery Furnaces with his sister Eleanor, isn't sweating it. He's had years of practice fine-tuning his tactical outline. "I've always tried to verbally bully her into agreeing with me, and a lot of the time, I'm successful. It's easy for me, because I'm the older sibling, so I'm used to telling her what to do. But younger siblings have their own strategies to help them get their own way. She has ways around [my bullying]."

You'd think it was a ploy--like another "brother/sister," bluesy rock duo--if it weren't for the music. Nothing on Gallowsbird's Bark (Rough Trade), the result of the Friedbergers' first-ever collaboration, sounds affected; the mythology and magic is within the music, which pops from the pressure of its own invention. They're a couple years older than most bands releasing their first record--Matthew is 31 and Eleanor is 27--and Gallowsbird's Bark sounds like years of untapped potential coming to a head, swinging with piano, guitar, and vocals, arranged smartly but played with unruly charm. Songs bubble up in tiny ecstatic bursts, like a bottle rocket or snap pops--the track "Two Fat Feet" alone contains approximately seven different guitar solos. Their ragtime piano solos-on-Britty-accents and well-behaved-with-rock-chutzpah delivery--like The White Album goes to Coney Island--lends them a slightly all-ages audience air. It is a family affair, after all.

The liner notes to Gallowsbird's Bark details the Friedbergers' quarrelsome past in a self-imposed unflattering tone--"[Matthew] moved back in with his motherÉ cementing his status as parasite and waster of indulgence and advantage"--but the charm and cohesion in their music betrays a fondness for each other. "Lately we've been getting along," says Matthew Friedberger. She trusts me sometimes when I win the fight--and, mostly, I trust her, even if she tries to sabotage what I'm doing." Spoken like a true older brother.