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Friday, November 07, 2003
"Leaky Tunnel" by the Fiery Furnaces starts off sounding like more or less exactly that: after a piano plink, we hear an organ riff that holds one note for a beat before spending half a beat plummeting down an octave to a note which is held for another half-beat, it's got a certain stereo spread and reverb on it that make it sound tunnelly, like an alarm echoing off concrete walls, presumably--given the title--indicating a flood, etc. A kick enters playing a strict backbeat and a low-volume guitar, miked and played in such a way that you hear a lot of string action, and heavily reverbed, so it feels like it's a long way away and played, though it electric, more for the rhythm of the strumming than the chords, more or less. Vocals enter, singing a melody semi-unrelated to anything else, miked close and only lightly reverbed, so it sounds fairly present, in contrast to the relentlessly distant backing.

At about the time the piano part comes in is when we expect the song to break out and really rock, but it doesn't; it stays in a kind of vamped breakdown, staying on the same chord except for minor, superficial changes that don't effect the two foregrounded instruments, organ and voice. Then there's something in the lyrics about jangling a tambourine (previously purchased, apparently, at the Millenium Dome in London--disembodied but specific geographic locations abound here in the way you might find them throughout Soul Coughing's Ruby Vroom) and everything cuts out but that guitar, still sounding way distant and way indistinct. It flails along for a few bars before the lead comes in, and the interesting thing about the lead is that for the first few notes it sounds like it should sound like shit, like the lead on an early Beck album or something, only vaguely in tune and in rhythm, the rhythm part being particularly difficult seeing as how the established guitar has apparently taken this opportunity to spazz out at will in a kind of indie-rock rubato. But after those first two notes it resolves itself to a good, semi-conventional riff and a nice melody that re-introduces the vocals well: it's an unexpectedly expected bit of standard arrangement, and while it wants for drums, its clash with the utter weirdness of the rest of the track works a treat. (Woulda been even better as an orchestra hit, but I am apparently one of the few people left in the country who likes orchestra hits.)

Finally, at 2:33, at a totally random but somehow just-right point in the vocal line, a full rock-n-fucking-roll drum part kicks in, with cymbals and everything, and oh, it's a hell of a release, a great, crashing bwamp of energy and emotion. Besides bringing all the instruments together, it really makes the vocals work, which had seemed super free-floating and unstructured in the previous section, lacking as it did either a kick or a regular organ arpeggiator. But the goddamn drumbeat breaks down after about 5 seconds, and while it occasionally nails everything together again for a beat or two, it never really does what it did initially at any length, refusing or unable to keep the kind of rock momentum we want here.

I like this song a lot--it's about five songs in one, and it gestures at a whole bunch of other songs, at arrangements and instrumentations that you'd expect to be there but which just aren't. Adding to that is the fact that the song is sequenced at #3 on the album, typically a place for really grabby singles. This one feels like a sketch, but if you listen right, it also feels like a complete song, because you can so easily fill in what isn't there. (A lot like Manitoba.) Good stuff.