Personnel: Matthew Friedberger (keyboards); Robert D'Amico (percussion).
A restless collaboration between the Fiery Furnaces' Matthew Friedberger and Sebadoh's Bob D'Amico (who previously worked with Friedberger as the Furnaces' live drummer), Saqqara Mastabas finds the pair experimenting in slightly different ways than before. Where the Fiery Furnaces' music and Friedberger's solo albums were more or less equal mixes of dizzying wordplay and concepts and wild musicianship, Saqqara Mastabas' largely instrumental debut album, Libras, puts the focus on the pair's furious playing. At times, the results are not unlike the Fiery Furnaces with the pop removed: "Fixed by the Tiny Talons of the Vulture Goddess" could be a Blueberry Boat outtake. Meanwhile, the demented intricacy of the keyboards on "Walking Though the False Door" and "Parade of the Prisoner Priests on Parade" recalls Friedberger's work with and without his band, as well as the classical/electronic pop hybrids of the '60s and '70s. The duo gets more ambitious on longer tracks like "No Escape for the Serfs on the Surf" and "Smoking on the Mountain, Embalming in the Valley," which cycle between ominous and wacky moments in a way that teeters between dazzling and disjointed. Libras' most engaging tracks are also the most structured. With its bright bells and lilting melody, "Uto on the Upswing" is a highlight, along with the percolating "The Failure (Of the Fencing of the Underground Apart from the Apartments' Part)" and "The Cosmetician's Knife," both of which bring just enough purpose and restraint to Saqqara Mastabas' freewheeling approach. Of course, fans of Friedberger's career will probably enjoy Libras, but those who like experimental indie rock that's challenging but not necessarily noisy should find a lot to like, too. ~ Heather Phares