The Fiery Furnaces Rehearsing My Choir

[Rough Trade; 2005]

Rating: 5/5

Styles: indie rock, folk, blues, post-punk, experimental, cabaret, theatrical
Others: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart

The Fiery Furnaces have taken the medium of music and turned it on its ear. The band is able to score the soundtrack to everyday life, thus breathing life into the music itself. Every single song evolves into a chapter or a short film with its very own plot, dialogue, climax, and illogical conclusion. Listening to a Fiery Furnaces album is akin to reading Richard Brautigan, Edgar Lee Masters, or Sherwood Anderson. However, these separate apexes combine to form one surprisingly cohesive tale.

It just so happens that the Fiery Furnaces have delivered another great American novel via guitars, drums, bells, and whistles. And though Olga Sarantos may not be a household name from sea to shining sea, her uncanny stream of consciousness has created the perfect blend of history, life lessons, and light comedy. It also happens that Ms. Sarantos is the 83-year old grandmother of Eleanor and Matt Friedberger, making her history their history—and what do Matt and Eleanor do better than anyone these days? They turn their lives and the lives around them into song and dance.

Rehearsing My Choir is a complicated yet easy-to-follow tale of Olga Sarantos and her life. At first, it's odd to listen to the album and not notice Olga's age-weary voice as it rambles from story to story in no particular order. One minute, Olga is focusing on present day happenings, and the next, the moral has taken us back to the '30s, '40s, and '50s. As easy as it would be to blame this scatterbrained assembly on her old age, it's at the behest of Eleanor that these leaps are made. As Olga narrates, Eleanor acts as the muse, recanting secondhand stories while adding quaint remembrances and constant prodding. Matt takes a back seat throughout Rehearsing My Choir, providing the varied and eclectic background music.

Matt may very well be the most important part of Olga and Eleanor's exchanges. While they trade off stanzas like battle rappers, Matt tinkers with the emotions by throwing in any and every sound he can conjure up. "The Garfield El" has some of the best piano work the Fiery Furnaces have ever employed—so much so that it's repeated again during "We Wrote Letters Everyday," as well as the album's finale, "Does it Remind You of When?" The piano is frantic and spastic before settling into a wistful riff. Matt doesn't abandon his blues-inspired guitar; in fact, it's stronger and angrier than ever. What makes it special and, more importantly, an attention-grabber, is its placement. When the story needs a pick-me-up or jagged emotion, the guitar is there to move things along. It's crunchy when it needs to be crunchy ("A Candymaker's Knife in my Handbag"), folky when it needs to be folky ("Slavin' Away"), and angry when it needs to be angry ("Does it Remind You of When?").

Any more questions about the sound? Refer to every Fiery Furnaces release, then throw that knowledge out the window because it won't help you here. It's impossible to explain everything without taking up 100 pages of babble. There are more layers to Rehearsing My Choir than contained throughout Earth. The Fiery Furnaces have again pushed the envelope. No wonder every indie fan is so divided on the band's talents and abilities. They explore every genre, every idea, and yet at the end you are left feeling as if they could have done more, though you know they've done more than you could ever imagine.

1. The Garfield El
2. The Wayward Granddaughter
3. A Candymaker's Knife in My Handbag
4. We Wrote Letters Everyday
5. Forty-Eight Twenty-Three Twenty-Second Street
6. Guns Under the Counter
7. Seven Silver Curses
8. Though Let's Be Fair
9. Slavin' Away
10. Rehearsing My Choir
11. Does it Remind You of When?

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