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Qualler Visits the Classics: The Fiery Furnaces, "Blueberry Boat"


(NOTE: This is another part of my sorta-informal Best Albums of the Decade list. The one album featured so far was The Fire Theft's self-titled record. Here's yet another one of my faves.)

I'm probably not unique in the fact that my music development went through a few different stages in my life. I was introduced to music through Sesame Street and a couple of cassette tapes that my dad made me of his Beatles and Beach Boys vinyl stashed in the basement. (I thought, when I was three-years-old, that the Beach Boys were the coolest band ever, and The Beatles were a little corny.) I started listening to the pop radio station, where I totally dug Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract" and hated "Stand" by R.E.M. (Again, Abdul with her cartoon cat duet partner in that music video totally cool, R.E.M. way too corny.) In elementary to middle school, I started to realize that to be a real "dude" I should be into rock music. The epic third LP by Pearl Jam, Vitalogy, was one of my first true album obsessions, with its unusual-to-an-11-year-old musical detours into accordian and sound-collage ("Bugs", "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me"). Radiohead's OK Computer was the logical modern step forward from the Pink Floyd stuff that I was also listening to around the same time. From about 1997 to 2001, my musical development basically consisted of non-stop discovery of new and interesting ideas that I didn't know could exist in music.

By the time I got to college, being inundated with like-minded music nerds meant I was listening to new music nonstop, new bands, new sounds. Yet, in that hip way that only a college student can successfully pull off without really seeming like a jackass, little of that music gave me that same sense of joy that I felt the first time I heard OK Computer, or "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me", or, okay, "Opposites Attract". That is until I heard The Fiery Furnaces second album, Blueberry Boat.


I was walking home from a long, frustrating session of computer programming at the U of M's computer lab back in 2004, feeling like my brain was total mush, frustrated that all the different lines of code made no sense to me, when I put this recently purchased compact disc into my player. The opening strains of the title track sounded like a kaleidescope of orderly confusion not unlike how my brain actually felt at the time. It was a total revelation -- music with crazy time signature changes, bleeps-and-bloops, lyrics about pirate ships full of blueberries, oh and wicked awesome shredding on the guitar, Keith Moon-esque drum fills, heartfelt emotion, and an overall sprawling nature reminiscent of those pretentious double-albums that I totally dug more than actually warranted back in the day. Finally, this music gave me that same new-discovery type buzz that I had been lacking, that the mundane nature of my computer programming had been beating out of my brain.

The joys of this album, though, come out the most through repeated listens. And I listened to this album repeatedly. Soon enough, the lyrical genius of the Friedbergers (Matthew and Eleanor) shined through, the rapid time signature changes didn't seem as jarring, and the album began to flow a lot like those albums that I obsessed over. The epic ten-minute opener "Quay Cur" takes Eleanor's cutting voice and (I think) speeds it up just a little to make it sound just a little otherworldly. But it's the rapid-fire acoustic blues guitar riffage that really puts the song into another stratosphere. The most straight forward rocker on the album "Straight Street" also features about 1 1/2 minutes of haunting organ / violin action that crept into my head. "Chris Michaels" really piles on the aforementioned Keith Moon-esque drum fills; it works as an homage and a reinvention of classic rock. As the album goes on, more and more of these moments that at first sound like the most confusing thing ever end up melding totally into my head.

It's great to discover music that makes you feel alive like this album does, or mid-90s Pearl Jam did, or, alas, Paula Abdul and a cartoon cat did back in the day. And I can think of no other album in the 90s that filled me with as much joy and excitement as this album. It doesn't hurt, either, that the musicianship is outstanding and the lyrical content is witty and clever. Blueberry Boat, then, is definitely a Qualler classic of the '00s.

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  1. Blogger chris | 5:36 PM |  

    I need to give this record another listen. I haven't in a long time. Lovin' this series, Quallz; keep it up!

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