Built around siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, the Fiery Furnaces are a brilliant and frustrating band. The brilliance comes out onstage, where Eleanor is a magnetic frontwoman and the complex material is played with Who-like ferocity. But on disc they get into weighty concepts, some inspired (like the neo-prog epic Blueberry Boat) and some just bizarre (like Rehearsing My Choir, with their grandmother on vocals). Bitter Tea is yet another concept - roughly, a playground version of evil postpunk, with cheap, tinkly keyboards and reversed vocals on every track (on a 73-minute album!) and almost none of Matthew's guitar. The melancholy story line is out of sync with the bubbly music. Thankfully, a melody grabs you whenever the annoyance factor threatens to take over, and Eleanor remains a wonder (think a young Laurie Anderson with real rock instincts). Like all Fiery Furnaces albums, this one is worth sticking with - and it's to the band's credit that it works at all. Still, Bitter Tea seems a sidestep from the art-rock classic the Furnaces clearly have in them.
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