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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
+ The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls Together
+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
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+ Red Carpet - The Noise Of Red Carpet
+ The Essex Green - Cannibal Sea
+ Espers - II
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44.1 kHz Archive

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The Fiery Furnaces
Rehearsing My Choir
Rough Trade

When Matt Friedberger told me last year he was working on an album with his grandmother, I assumed he was joking... or at least tossing around creative possibilities never to be fulfilled. Now, just over a year after the Fiery Furnaces' universally acclaimed Blueberry Boat, here is proof that he was entirely serious.

In some ways, the very theatrical tone of Rehearsing My Choir only extends the pageant-driven excesses of Blueberry Boat. It is a concept album, as Blueberry Boat was not, telling the life story of a grandmother-aged character, in a dialogue between Olga Sarantos and Eleanor Friedberger. Sarantos, with her deep, elderly rasp, represents experience and disillusionment, Eleanor hope, faith and young love. Matt stays mostly in the background, commenting occasionally through Greek-chorus singing, but more often through the swirls and eddies of instrumental music. For example, in the closing "Does This Remind You of When?", Santos describes a wedding ruined by construction noise; you can hear both the chapel organ and a distorted howl of guitars as backing sound.

Rehearsing My Choir is full of cerebral pleasures — the joy of hearing Sarantos mouth those rhyming couplets so often written for Eleanor, the constant interplay between spoken word, song and instrumental accompaniment, and the surreal glimpses of past lives afforded by these songs. Yet it is also devoid of anything like a hummable single. And unlike Blueberry Boat, it is not tied together by musical themes; there are few repeated motifs or melodies like the one that united "Blueberry Boat" with "Quay Cur." The link is more narrative than structural, and in that way Rehearsing… is more like a radio play than an album. It requires attentive listening from start to finish, and your enjoyment depends more on your ability to follow the story than any musical distinctiveness on the album's part.

And then there's the question of Sarantos' voice, which many people have found grating. I am personally too old to object to anything very strongly on the basis of age, and yet her voice is a rough, oddly shaped instrument to emerge in any work of indie pop. There's something sort of tragic about her singing, even when the material is not, which makes for an interesting contrast with Eleanor's untouched alto. Her announcement in the title track that "There was one man... with whom I didn't get along," accompanied by downward marching piano notes, has a ravaged drama to it that Eleanor can't match. No one her age could. So is it mellifluous? No. Is it a unique and appropriate instrument for this particular work? Yes.

My feeling is that Rehearsing My Choir is an odd, initially indigestible album that is far more interesting than most people are willing to admit. Its theatrical excesses are really only a step or two out from Blueberry Boat, and they are tied much more strongly to a continuing story. It's not easy pop. It may not even primarily be music. But if you applaud the Friedbergers for breaking structure with their earlier work, you can't exactly scold them for going too far here.

by Jennifer Kelly

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