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Some Cool Curtains, and Fiery Furnaces

August 24, 2006 By:
M.J. Fine, JE Feature
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I'm not one to complain about the weather. For one thing, complaining doesn't do any good. Whining about the blazing sun doesn't make it any less hot. For another, I like the heat. Ninety degrees: Great, I'll sit under a tree. A hundred degrees: Terrific, I'll be in my friend's pool. I've even been known to wear jeans on visits to Vegas in July or Tucson in August.

My apartment is something else entirely. Clothing is not optional there -- it's suicidal. The humidity means I'm wetter out of the shower than in it. And the worst part: My fan is loud enough to drown out the stereo, but not powerful enough to keep me conscious for more than a few minutes at a time.

So when I want to beat the heat, I go outside, swig carrot juice and put on something cool. Like the Curtains, pride of Crockett, Calif.

Until recently, the Curtains has been a diversion for multi-instrumentalist Chris Cohen. Though the shape-shifting lineup managed to release an album per year from 2002 to 2004, its only permanent member was too busy making noise with the inexplicably popular Deerhoof to focus on his own project.

In May, though, Cohen reprioritized. He left Deerhoof -- an amicable parting, as they say -- to make the Curtains a full-time thing. He enlisted guitarist Nedelle Torrisi -- a lovely singer-songwriter in her own right -- and keyboardist Annie Lewandowski to round out the sound, and hired touring drummer Corey Fogel to give them an extra kick.

The Curtains' upcoming album, "Calamity," has some residual weirdness -- it would be more bizarre if Deerhoof's cacophony hadn't left any traces -- but for the most part, it's refreshingly accessible pop.

"Go Lucky" sets the tone with Cohen's wistful voice, piano and acoustic guitar. The title track swells with bells and fuzzy, squalling guitar; "Invisible String" brings the mood back down with a trippy two-man duet straight out of the days of black-and-white TV.

And if you crave a little more self-conscious quirkiness, put on "Wysteria" to bathe in harmonies that sound like they were recorded underwater.

Cohen's lyrics are easy to follow but they don't mean much, and the melodies often lend his words a hint of depth that's not evident on paper. On "Roscomare," he and Torrisi sigh lines like, "All the good friends gone/ My line ends with you." Best is "Fell on a Rock & Broke It," which captures a moment and lets it float away.

"Calamity" doesn't come out until October, but you can get a taste at myspace.com/musical curtains. Or see for yourself when the Curtains hit the Khyber on Thursday, Aug. 24.

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Even cooler, in certain indie-rock quarters, is "Bitter Tea," the fifth offering from the Fiery Furnaces.

Accessibility is relative where the Brooklyn-based brother-sister duo is concerned. After letting their grandmother loose on last year's "Rehearsing My Choir," the Friedberger siblings close ranks again. Each part is in its place -- the words are audible; the songs flow perfectly -- but it all sounds like the work of a deliberate lunatic.

Matthew favors backward vocals, tinny piano and clashing keyboards; Eleanor plays drums and narrates their creepy tales with crisp diction and dodgy syntax. Even the most conventional arrangement sounds sinister; on "Teach Me Sweetheart," unsettling synthesizers deftly set up an account of murderous in-laws.

The Friedbergers' best lyrics unspool unlikely chains of events. "The Vietnamese Telephone Ministry," for instance, is a harrowing travelogue; at its apex, Eleanor goes from church to church in a desperate search for some unnamed thing.

For all their pathos and intrigue -- and who can resist onstage sibling rivalry? -- the Fiery Furnaces are fairly frosty. That won't help you get through this cold, cruel world, but for now, it feels fine.  

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