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Rehearsing My Choir

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Audio CD, October 25, 2005
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Editorial Reviews

From the Artist

Dear Listener, Tracks 3 and 4 take place in the 40's; tracks 5 and 6 in the 20's and 30's; track 7 in the later 50's; track 8 starts in the very early 40's; track 9 goes back and forth; track 10 takes place in the early 60's; the final track takes place in the early 90's. Track 2 takes place a few years ago; track 1 took place when it was recorded. The action depicted in "The Wayward Granddaughter" and "Slavin' Away" does not include the character Olga Sarantos plays on the rest of the record. "Slavin' Away" imagines that character--the main character-- fantasizing, a bit remotely, about the hard lot of other women. Now, I wouldn't guess that the Main Character actually thought the woman concerned was riding around in a Norton side-car and operating her own cottage industry trinket assembly/sweatshop: but it might have pleased her to picture it so. "The Wayward Granddaughter" is about a different Greek-American grandmother and her popular granddaughter ("Connie"). They're from Chicago's south suburbs and don't figure in the rest of the record; I wanted to have another (slightly younger) grandmother and family in there for perspective or comparison's sake, so to speak. Thank you for your time, Matthew Friedberger

About the Artist

The Fiery Furnaces' fourth US release, "Rehearsing My Choir" is based, with liberal heaps of poetic license, around the recollections of Matt and Eleanor Friedberger's grandmother, 83-year-old Olga Sarantos. As Eleanor and Mrs. Sarantos trade off on vocals, signaling quick shifts in time and perspective, the music barrels along at their heels, the Furnaces changing up instruments and arrangements to match the action. As much musical theater as concept album, the story arc of "Rehearsing My Choir" largely takes place in mid-20th century Chicago. The lyrics matter-of-factly recount our heroine's adventures from a half-century ago, and so reflect how the average person's aspirations and experiences were different enough then to seem almost alien now. But it's no period piece, no nostalgia or attempts at "authenticity" in evidence, and Mrs. Saranatos' dry, unsparing treatment on tracks like "Candymaker's Knife in My Handbag" is the furthest thing from sentimental. "! Rehearsing My Choir" was written and produced by Matt and recorded in separate stages: Vocals engineered by John McEntire At Soma EMS in Chicago over November/December '04, the musical backing tracks recorded that November by Bill Skibbe at Key Club Recording Company in Benton Harbor, MI, and mixing done with Rafter Roberts at San Diego's Singing Serpent, in Feb. 2005 Originally from Oak Park, IL, siblings Matt and Eleanor Friedberger formed the Fiery Furnaces in 2001, after each had made the separate decision to move to New York City. Neither had been in a working band before, but once they started playing regularly in NYC the Furnaces made up for lost time – most successful bands have less to show for their lifetimes than the Fiery Furnaces have packed into the span of two years. Since recording "Gallowsbird's Bark", (released by Rough Trade in 2003), the band has spent most of its time in the studio or touring. By the time of "Gallowsbird's" release, the band was already finishing up its 76-minute follow-up, "Blueberry Boat," released later in 2004. "EP," a full-length record consisting of B-sides and UK singles, was released in early 2005 and was as different in intent and execution from "Blueberry Boat" as that record was to "Gallowsbird's Bark." With the Shins, Franz Ferdinand, Wilco and others along for the ride, the Furnaces spent the remainder of 2003-2005 trekking around Europe, Australia, Japan and the USA. During this time the band also established its unorthodox method of recreating its songs live - running through the set list all at once, breaking the songs into fragments and threading the bits amongst each other, not stopping for breath til the end. The Fiery Furnaces have just finished their next record, "Bitter Tea," which is tentatively scheduled for release in the early 2006.

Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 25, 2005)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Rough Trade Us
  • ASIN: B000BDJ02U
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #504,870 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
I'm not going to pretend that this is consistently easy listening. That doesn't necessarily point to a vice. Captain Beefheart makes for difficult listening; Perry Como does not. Which performer would you like a CD by? This is challenging music, but challenging in a good way, and along the way there are hosts of wonderfully poetic moments. I will concede at this is not the Friedberger siblings best album, but one can love GALLOWSBIRD'S BARK and BLUEBERRY BOAT and enjoy this one as well.

As the editorial reviews indicate and as many fans already know, the guts of this album were supplied by the brother and sister's act grandmother, Olga Sarantos. Whether you love or hate this album, this is pretty much beyond doubt the greatest contribution ever to a rock album by anyone's grandmother. Her reflections on events from earlier decades are proclaimed by her in a surprisingly firm and expressive voice. This ain't your average grandma. The pieces (it is hard to call them songs) are marvelously evocative and always feel like expressions of actual, lived experiences. Nothing rote or hackneyed here. Many of the lyrics have a stream-of-consciousness feel and you will either find that moving or off putting. I lean towards the former.

I'm not usually a fan of albums driven by synthesized keyboards, with the obvious exception of Brian Eno, but I find this musically compelling. They've obviously ingested a lot of Beefheart, Eno, Zappa, Can, and others, though with a bit more of a pop feel than all of those except the early Eno.

REHEARSING MY CHOIR, as many reviewers have noted, was one of two albums of 2005 that focused heavily on Chicago in its subject matter.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 21, 2006
Format: Audio CD
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By anonymous on December 13, 2005
Format: Audio CD
Critics and fans both hate when an artist turns their back on them, and The Fiery Furnaces have done it again, polarizing both groups with this album like nothing I've seen in ages. Nobody likes to be surprised, and the Furnace's radical shift on this cd has given the middle finger to people's expectations and had them coughing up blood since word of the concept leaked out. Truth is, this album isn't all that different from Blueberry Boat. It doesn't reach quite the same heights (or with such frequency) as Blueberry Boat or match its epic scope, but their collage of dissociated genres is intact. In fact, if not for one factor, many of those who derided Blueberry Boat as a bloated, patchy and overreaching mess would have probably embraced its more compact song and total length as a tighter collection of songs that combines Blueberry Boats blender effect with the terse and sharp dynamics of Gallowbird's Bark.

That one factor is Olga Sarantos. Critics have come up with a lot of cosmic pedantic reasons as to why this album is a failure, mostly derivatives of it being an esoteric exercise with no regards to music craft, or the telling of the story to be an exercise in literary narcissism. But the truth is Sarantos just creeps them out, plain an simple. People can't take her creepy voice disrupting these songs, especially when Eleanor's never sounded better, and come up with other explanations that won't disturb the illusion that music criticism is an artcraft (it's not). And it's true that this is a significant factor that robs the album of some of its greatness (many of these songs certainly sounded better when the Furnaces performed them live this fall without Olga).
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