The Fiery Furnaces Bitter Tea

The Fiery Furnaces Bitter Tea
Bitter Tea is the Fiery Furnaces’ fifth full-length in three years, and once again it’s chock full of playful pop songs overflowing with melodic ideas, delivered with angular tempo and mood shifts. Unlike the sprawling 2004 classic Blueberry Boat, most of the songs clock here in around five minutes, making the jarring moments more digestible. Even the strangest moments still fit into a pop format. Matthew Friedberger has stripped almost all the guitars from the mix, utilising an arsenal of ancient synths. Sometimes they’re sweet, sometimes they’re sour, but most of the time they’re run on backwards tape, along with vocals and drums, to give a discombobulating effect to otherwise lovely pop songs. His sister Eleanor drops the rhyming couplets and stretches her vocal range to great effect; the single edit of "Benton Harbor Blues” is perhaps the swooniest three minutes in the band’s entire discography. Despite the emphasis on brevity, Bitter Tea still clocks in at 76 minutes, with two reprised cuts and one or two clunkers. But by coming on the heels of the reviled Rehearsing My Choir, which will be ripe for a revisionist renaissance several years from now, the Fiery Furnaces reaffirm their place as the most inventive rock band working today.

Just about every track has something run backwards on it. Why? Matthew Friedberger: Backwards instruments — and especially backwards voices — are beautiful, proper, normal rock sounds, and they should be as prevalent on a record as electric guitar. It’s such a physical, pleasurable thing that gives the album a pulpy gloominess. We wanted the record to have this morbid thing, but not in a goth-y or Black Sabbath heavy metal way. Backwards vocals were an obvious way to do that.

Is there a lyrical intent with the effect? Sometimes. That’s the fun about backwards vocals, is you can make up what it says and see what it sounds like. There is an excuse in individual songs as to why it’s backwards. In "Black-hearted Boy” she’s in a bad situation and the backwards voice is her having a little daydream. The singing is much smoother so presumably it’s a happy daydream, until she wakes up to the annoying synth.

This is the softest and the sweetest I’ve known the band to be. Eleanor was supposed to sound more understated and impassive. Lots of the sounds are meant to be ugly in a pretty way. It’s meant to be a more lyrical record, as opposed to Rehearsing My Choir, which was more prose-y and not meant to sing along to. Some of these songs are actually supposed to have choruses. (Fat Possum)