Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sunday Synthpop Brunch: Furnace St.

Furnace St.On the occasions when I profiled local music during my short-lived stint as a professional writer, I always sought to be as encouraging to whatever bands I was covering as possible, whether I actually enjoyed their music or not (invariably, it was almost always "not"). It was towards the end of this writing career that I was presented with the debut CD by a local duo called Furnace St. and had a kind of instantaneous "YES!!" reaction to hearing it for the first time that was all-too rare to my jaded sensibilities back then.

It's difficult now to convey just how much of a joyous rush listening to Furnace St.'s music gave me back in October of 1998, since synthpop was stone-cold dead and much of the electronica movement that I had been fully swept up in over the last couple of years had begun to stagnate under the weight of bandwagon-jumping and jazz-leaning, epic pretentions. Thus, it was with great excitement that I heard in this band's work the sound of two people whose musical tastes practically mirrored my own and were just as keenly interested in the sounds of old analog synthesizers and despairing, yet undeniably pretty melodies.

Interviewing the duo for a short feature a couple of weeks later was a pleasure, as was seeing them perform live at a sparsely-attended weeknight show at Peabody's Down Under in February of 1999. Sadly, the eventual intrusion of (and massive changes brought forth by) life after my Scene / Spot period caused me to lose touch with the band (not to mention track of their career), though that irreplaceable debut CD has made many trips into my CD player in the years since.

It was while researching this post to see what Furnace St. has been up to over the last few years that I became aware that life had intruded on their plans as well: an announcement of the duo now being in a state of "indefinite hiatus" was a sad surprise, indeed. With that in mind, this post has become a tribute to these two people who have created some of the most interesting synth-pop/rock I've had the pleasure of hearing in the last decade.

Lisa brings the synthsThe musical partnershhip that ultimately became Furnace St. started in earnest around 1994, shortly after Adam Boose and Lisa Jorgensen met while attending high school. The two young musicians shared a common musical interest in the dark, atmospheric sounds of such U.K. proto-Darkwave titans as New Order, The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Ultravox. These influences were quite apparent in Furnace St.'s musical palette, which combined forbidding, goth-like bass-guitar lines, evocative old-school synthesizers, pre-programmed rhythms, whispered vocals seemingly phoned in from another plane, and fiery, distorted guitar textures.

The first release to the public of any Furnace St. material was 1998's Neuromantic -- the same album I was talking about back in the opening paragraph. By turns hypnotic, beautiful, and abrasive, this was a "work in progress" collection of lean, feral demos bristling with future promise that had me ensnared right from the first play. Beautifully fusing the anguished self-loathing of then-modern industrial rock with the striking, eerie beauty of darkwave and the doomy ambience of early 80’s U.K. synthpop, Neuromantic was initially available on an extremely limited basis before being given a full-on release (in remastered and slightly-expanded form) in the spring of 2001.

Early in 2000, Furnace St. released their first "finished" album, Ladykiller. While not as immediately seductive to me as Neuromantic, Ladykiller sported a rougher, more muscular sound from the duo as Boose's guitars ate up more of the sonic picture and moved Jorgenson's synths more to the background. Ladykiller was also sonically fleshed out by a more detailed and professional studio gloss, giving the album far more impact on a visceral level than its comparatively-understated predecessor. The slam dunk track here for me was the simmering "Oceanview": a delicious slice of pure, simmering menace.

A third Furnace St. album, Headmusic, appeared in the summer of 2002, further ratcheting-up the power chords while still retaining the songwriting sensibilities of their two releases. Headmusic was then followed by People -- a collection of album tracks remixed by friends and colleagues of the duo just before Christmas of 2003.

Since the stopgap release of People, Furnace St. continued playing live shows through at least last summer, including a gig in Belfort, France (which is pretty amazing for a completely-unsigned Midwestern U.S. act when you think about it). When not playing various venues in Ohio and surrounding states, the duo spent their downtime working on their fourth album, Extroversion.

The plan initially had been for Furnace St. to release their surprisingly more pop-accessible (though no less challenging) new album on CD, as had been the case with their previous works. However, when the decision was made to take the band off the road and effectively out of existence for the time being, the duo elected to make Extroversion available in its entirety as a free download from their recently redesigned website, which also features some additional mp3s and a couple of performance videos (including a rather surprising cover of an old 80's Top 40 chestnut) from the band's 2002 incarnation which featured bassist/guitarist/vocalist and occasional co-writer Brian D. Taylor.

For those headed over to check out the band's site or their new album, please take a couple of minutes to drop Adam or Lisa a message and let 'em know what you think of their music. Here's hoping this indefinite hiatus doesn't necessarily spell the end of a talented partnership.

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