Imagine borrowing your grandmother’s scrapbook. As you page through the photos and relics of her life, the book begins to crumble, collapse, and disintegrate. But as this happens, music begins to play throughout the room. Old and young voices sing back and forth, taking the place of the photos; the emotions which could never be expressed in words bloom into electronic noise, piano, and guitar. A woman’s life begins to exist only in your ears: her emotions, her secrets, her longings, every part of her now exist inside you. This imaginitive experience is Rehearsing My Choir.
The Fiery Furnaces are already known for their sprawling, imaginative pop albums, and yet this record appears to have baffled many of their fans. In direct opposition to our iTunes-age dollar-for-a-song existence, Choir only succeeds as a collective. Choosing a single from its track listing is the equivalent to choosing an excerpt that entirely sums up Mrs. Dalloway; a skilled editor might find an enticing moment, but that moment does nothing to show the true rhythm and depth hidden inside this work. In fact, Rehearsing My Choir often seems to have less in common with most other albums and more in common with modernist literature, such as the aforementioned Mrs. Dalloway or Jean Rhys’ Good Morning, Midnight. Unfortunately, unlike either of those books, where the reader can reread a line over and over to understand it and measure its worth, the Fiery Furnaces’ new album allows no such luxury.
Not that it isn’t often enjoyable: Olga Sarantos, the grandmother of those loveable Friedbergers, has an extremely pleasing voice. Two parts Peter and the Wolf narrator, one part elderly Eleanor, each time Olga makes an appearance in her own story I can’t help but sit up a little straighter. And speaking of Eleanor, her singing on this album is the loveliest I’ve heard to date. I can’t help but enjoy the stories as told by Eleanor and her grandmother: first liquor experiences, being courted by two men named Kevin, cheating husbands, and the wraths of Greek Orthodox clergymen. Despite the intellectual concept behind the music, the whimsy that often surfaces within their other, more pop-oriented works is in full effect.
Honestly, the best approach to Rehearsing My Choir is to come into it without any expectations. The listener is much more likely to enjoy themself if they abandon all hope of finding a lyrical hook or the usual accepted musical structures, and simply accept the record for what it is. But if you’re looking for an album that doesn’t require some effort to enjoy it, then it would probably be in your best interests to just steer clear from this one and wait for the Furnaces’ planned 2006 release.
Reviewed by Megan Giddings
This review is also posted on The Modern Pea Pod.
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