You have to admit, not every band would make a concept album about their grandmother's life. But the Fiery Furnaces do that for their grandmother, octogenarian Olga Sarantos. And with granny's own help, too. Their third full-length album, "Rehearsing My Choir," is a truly weird album full of reminiscences of Sarantos' life and thoughts. It's not musical in the usual sense.... so if you want to enjoy it, don't think of it as music. Think of it as an offbeat biographical piece of musical theatre. It opens with a relentless piano melody, with Sarantos herself speaking in a smooth, deep voice about fudge, hammers, thumbtacks, lost loves and other offbeat stuff. Her granddaughter Eleanor Friedberger dips in occasionally, singing behind her grandmother's spoken word monologue. This continues throughout the album, with Eleanor singing sweetly behind Olga's deep vocals, and sometimes talking for herself. "Once upon a time, there were two Kevins..."/"You mean two jerks!" they interrupt each other, before Eleanor starts off on a sweet ditty about her ex-boyfriends. "Rehearsing My Choir" is probably the Furnaces' weakest work thus far, with its jumps in time and location. And if you don't know that it's all about, it will be completely confusing. And not in an fun indiepop-opera manner either. Fortunately for Furnaces fans, even the weakest of their music is still pretty dang good. It's full of bright, affectionate, humorous anecdotes and a warm-hearted look on a very cool-sounding lady's life. The brother-sister duo (and Olga) manage to maintain a level of weirdness on par with their prior work. In the lyrics, Olga's life is given a true Furnaces-style makeover, sort of a nightmare poetry spin. This IS the band that wrote a whole song about a dog taking a religious turn. "Zapped by the zombie! Zapped by the zombie!/Zapped by the zombie in the two-door Dodge/Twice baked brioche and Danish pastry pockets/And lock it's two-door Dodge," Olga and Eleanor sing, after an extended noodling session. Gypsies, night schools, weddings, boyfriends and family love are all woven into the songs. And they also maintain the musical peculiarities, with sprawling melodies that spill over with synth, organ, piano, and splatterings of electric guitar, Latin flavour, computer blips and bursts of electric guitar. It's Jackson Pollock music. It's by no means their tightest work, but it is plenty of fun. Even if you don't listen to the vocals, the music is worth it alone. While "Rehearsing My Choir" is not the tightest work the Fiery Furnaces have done, the offbeat melodies and quirky lyrics prove that they still have what it takes.
This is an album that requires proper attention, it definitely gets easier with repeated listens. I'm not sure its an album that would become a favourite but I admire the effort that has been put into it. Its great to hear people trying to do something different. Some may call it pretentious, but if you don't get people trying new stuff you end up with the X Factor.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that this new communique from The Fiery Furnaces is proof positive (if any were needed) that Matt Friedberger suffers from the musical equivalent of Tourette's. The album starts off in suitably Furnace-mode: relatively restrained even by their standards, almost as if he's trying to stop himself from spewing out a new melody every three seconds, but by the third song, the brakes are off, the dizzy-ing genre, tempo and mood shifts kick in and all hell breaks loose. That's before you've even begun to factor in Granny's voice. Yup, a Friedberger Granny. Her voice is mellifluous to be sure, and underscores just how in tune the whole clan is with each other. Talk about a family affair. The problem is one of obtuseness. Unlike Dylan, for example, who used his musical backing to fore-ground his lyrics and therefore opted for melodies that were often repetitive, the Friedbergers head off in a diametrically opposite direction. The music is subservient to the words to the extent that EACH word or sentence requires a wholly different texture, melody and rhythm. Hence the feeling of sea-sickness on listening to this new album. I applaud their creativity and adherence to their inner muse as much as I decry their willfulness and refusal to pander to any coherent musical agenda. Hence my title. The diagnosis is acute Tourette's combined with ADD. The prognosis? Unclear in the extreme.
I may well have stumbled on the most annoying pile of pretentious garbage I have yet had the misfortune of purchasing. Not one "song" on the entire album. By the end I was fast-forwarding through tracks to see if there ever came a time when they stopped messing about.
Imagine turning up to see a band perform only for them to spend the entire set tuning their instruments before wandering off without playing a single tune and that's pretty much how I felt after listening to this.