album reviews

The Fiery Furnaces
Rehearsing My Choir
Rough Trade (2005)

Since the band's 2003 debut, "Gallowsbird's Bark," the Fiery Furnaces have cultivated a sound that is sometimes quirky, sometimes inaccessible, but always experimental pop: The brother-and-sister duo's songs are upbeat and catchy, but unconventionally so. Eleanor Friedberger delivers stream-of-consciousness vocals almost without melody, while mastermind Matthew Friedberger writes the songs, produces the albums and plays most of the instruments.

With "Rehearsing My Choir," the siblings are joined by their grandmother Olga Sarantos, who adds fantastical stories with her husky vocals. Although this new, nontraditional voice makes the album even less accessible than the Furnaces' earlier work, Sarantos's stories unify "Rehearsing" into a cohesive narrative. The group's music has always had a theatrical feel, and the juxtaposition of Eleanor's rapid-fire soprano and Sarantos's tales of life in Chicago turns their back-and-forth verses into dialogue. The lengthy "Seven Silver Curses" describes a Gypsy potion to cure a husband's infidelity as Sarantos's reminiscences alternate with Eleanor's urgency as the voice of her grandmother's younger self.

But it would be misleading to describe "Rehearsing" as a sequential play, since the songs are not presented in chronological order. Instead, they jump around on a timeline that stretches back to the 1920s, and at least one song, the bouncy "Wayward Granddaughter," tells the story of completely unrelated characters. While "Rehearsing" is unlikely to have wide appeal -- even among Furnaces fans -- it is a fascinating compilation of a grandmother's stories presented as a jumbled assortment of fact and fiction.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 6 November 2005, Page N04
.: Rehearsing My Choir on