Matthew Friedberger: Anyone Who Might Have Ever Liked Music Is Wrong, For Sure

The Fiery Furnaces i i

There's a lot going on, and not all of it is good. Eleanor (left) and Matthew Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces.  Press Here hide caption

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The Fiery Furnaces

There's a lot going on, and not all of it is good. Eleanor (left) and Matthew Friedberger of Fiery Furnaces. 

Press Here

Matthew Friedberger's band, The Fiery Furnaces, have had one of those difficult relationships with fans. Gallowsbird Bark, the first album Friedberger made with his sister Eleanor, got lumped in with the early '00s garage revival, but it was the reception of their prog-rock referencing, song-suite dominated, 76 minute-long Blueberry Boat, the Furnaces' second record, that made the Friedbergers the indie darlings that some fans couldn't even love to hate. Pitchfork gave it a 9.6; Rolling Stone called it "a stitched-together, underedited collage of half-finished tunes."

Turns out reading Friedberger's thoughts on the way music is written about and appreciated by audiences today is a little like listening to the the music his band makes — inscrutable and overly long, but definitely rewarding, if you can sift through the muck.

In an enormous interview (er... monologue?) published in Assembly Journal, Friedberger suggests that liking music today has become such an unbelievably complicated act of calculation that assertions of taste become all but meaningless.

Music is still a "prestige" item. The music you like is now more important for first impressions both for the way you're formulating yourself and the way you interact with people. Music is still educating people about whether they're cool or not. ... People are just as happy with the talk about the object, or the talk about the processes making the object, being interesting. They don't mind that the object or the processes themselves aren't interesting. There's no difference to them. They're very happy with having Vampire Weekend in place of Elvis Costello. As the media gets smaller and smaller, because of closer small-worldness I guess, success is the only thing that's interesting.

You get the sense he could be more direct if he wanted to, but perhaps that wouldn't be the point.

Friedberger is notoriously cantankerous (he's had fights with his sister and band mate, Eleanor, in the middle of interviews) but his cynicism here, even about his own band's success, is kind of astonishing:

The person who gave the review at Pitchfork liked it and was willing to champion it. They liked the album because it was prog-rocky in a way that wasn't too prog-rocky for people, and they wanted to find a record that they were clever to like. I think it was very arbitrary that people liked Blueberry Boat, because that record doesn't have much use except to listen to it — it doesn't set your mood very well, it's not very usable in the normal ways that records are usable. People were really going to have to like it because they're told that it's okay to like. There's no way they're going to like it unless socially they felt safe.

Also coming under fire, maybe: M.I.A., MGMT, hipsters, people who use the word "hipster," record labels, the word "indie," Twitter, everything else in the world. I'm not positive that Friedberger dislikes any of the things he criticizes; it just seems like displaying a simple appreciation for anything would betray his sense of the world as a complex place.

In other news, I'm Going Away, the Furnaces' most recent album, is good! And not one song is longer than seven minutes!

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