It's easy to forget just how big of a curveball this was after Gallowsbird's Bark given how far out in left field the Friedberger siblings went on subsequent outings, but in 2004 there was only one way to react to witnessing this thing unravel: Where the fuck did this come from?
If the directions the band took after this managed to dull that part of its appeal a bit it also serves to highlight just how perfectly the duo do things here. The songs have sprawl, unwieldy sprawl, but the primary thing behind them is an almost effortless sense of hookiness and pop-smarts. The music is varied but concise if that makes sense - it's not a cluttered mess despite shifting at least 5 times within each song, even the shorter ones. The combination of that level of variety, the fact that each separate vignette is just as catchy as the last one and that the arrangements are all done with remarkable skill and attention to detail makes for probably the most singularly satisfying pop album of the decade.And yes, this is a pop album. It's catchy, fun, nonsensical and impeccably crafted, all the hallmarks of every type of pop music dressed up in prog clothes with a healthy portion of quirk to go around. No matter what you want to call it, at its heart it's a pop album as far as I'm concerned, and that's not a bad thing.
It's hard to write a review of this without it simply descending into a list of the best parts of the best songs because any attempt to describe the album's sound in any sort of detail would just devolve into a laundry list of all the various hooks and shifts each song goes through. While a bluffers' guide to Blueberry Boat might be appreciated in some circles, describing how the songs evolve doesn't compare to actually listening to them. I can't describe the sort of head-turning awe I experience every time "Quay Cur"'s pleasant organ section stops abruptly for a flurry of electric guitar ans turns into prime Beefheart-ish garage rock, or how "My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found" redeems its one-joke nature with a never identical set of verse riffs that don't alter Eleanor's vocal rhythms for all their differences, or how you get tricked into thinking that "Chief Inspector Blancheflower" is pointless until Matthew non sequiturs that he joined the police force, or...or...or...well, you get the idea. There's enough of these moments across the 13 tracks - and I'd wager that half of them are in "Chris Michaels," a serious contender for song of the decade - that things like the title track wind up surprising me by virtue of not making that sort of switch too often.
Of course there' no guarantee that you'll feel this way, I've found that every album that the Furnaces release has an equal number of vehement detractors and fervent worshippers so your chances are about 50/50 all told, but for me, this is the type of album I wanted more of throughout the last five years of the decade. I wanted more albums that didn't sacrifice interesting for catchy or vice versa, I wanted more albums that kept me on my toes, and most of all I wanted more albums with personality. I didn't get too much of that, Sunset Rubdown's albums might achieve this sort of thing with time and the more I listen to Anathallo's Floating World the more I think it could pass for Blueberry Boat's shyer brother, but at least the Friedbergers delivered this fusion of all those things at a point where I was primed to get excited for it.