US - Illinois - Full Moon 116 - 03/15/06
The Fiery Furnaces
Rehearsing My Choir
Rough Trade Records
This didn't get a proper introduction back in the latter half 2005, and it's not technically too late for us at Luna Kafé to make up for lost time. Rehearsing My Choir is worth the awkward timing, and for a four month lifespan it has been aging remarkably well. Considering the current scene, bursting with half fantastic in-and-out acts like The Stars and Wolf Parade, one finds it hard to keep up the hype on their barely edgy discs. In the face of the indie market's short attention span, this latest addition to the 00's expansive list of biographical concept albums just manages to very stylishly stick its head out above the amazing flood.
It's difficult choosing whether or not to call My Choir either a fine tapestry of art duo clicés or an expansive American encyclopedia of popular Canadian Indie motifs: post-Victorian 1920s Quebecois chic, corresponding creepy string quartet arrangements, modernist dance beats and drum machines, an obsession with the rise and demise of the WWI generation, and deep soil guitars grinding earth somewhere between The Magic Band, Willie Dixon, and the Pixies' Surfer Rosa. This bona-fide brother/sister combo has an explicit and well choreographed chemistry: Matthew Friedberger provides a swirling score of aged pianos and hip dance schemes behind his sister Eleanor's indie chick dead pan, innocently chimed melodies. Together they tell the trials and tribulations of their grandmother, Olga Santaros, in the prime of her life with the star. Her comments are weaved in between Eleanor's disturbingly enchanting choral chants. As a trio they bring life to historically accurate episodes of organized crime interaction, sexual whims, and racist gossip banter.
With the pace and premeditated confusion of a Michael Gondry film, the Friedbergers tell the scandals behind their family's black and white picture frames. In journal entry form, the grandkids get directive thought poetry in candid snap shots of cheating husbands, violent encounters, on the streets of depression-era
America. Rehearsing My Choir is best in uncovering the adventures of a traditional period, and highlighting the romanticism therein. Through Olga's words the bands convey a closeted feminist, taking solace behind the passion of leading her gospel choral group.
Matthew's instrumentation is just as bewildering as the story line; jumping from psychedelic hip hop dance beats with a Baroque Period arrangement to Salsa emergencies detailing the mistakes of a rushed hat factory. Quick lines tell the stories of love affairs, marriages, economic strife and the equal uncertainty of the age. "In Cicero / Never stand at window" they chant on "Guns Under the Counter", and you can feel the bullets of the Irish mob whiz by you in the form of chemical organ and synthesizer glisses. "Davenport changed its name to Hooverville, so to speak" gives a specific cultural landmark, and by these environmental details our audience realizes the stress of the man's world surrounding the inner turmoil within our central character, the elderly Santaros.
The biopic finds its end at a grave yard, with Olga grieving over family members. The same honky piano is given a heavenly waterfall effect and the curtain closes. As with The Arcade Fire's Funeral, which is similarly fixated with death and grandparents, the Fiery Furnaces submit the indie dish is best served with dark humor and stylish gothic nostalgia. Rehearsing My Choir is not merely whimpering its head above the water helplessly. The Fiery Furnaces ride the indie current with expertise and finesse - the difference between the better and best albums these days.
Copyright © 2006 Matthew DeMello