Today’s indie-rock scene sports some incredible and varied experimental music. Deerhoof’s frenzied squall, Animal Collective’s hippie folk and Lightning Bolt’s noisy, well, noise are a few reasons why rock lovers should realize they’re living in a golden era. Now is a time when CBGB’s should be embracing these exciting new sounds instead of going broke by letting derivative pop-punkers headline the same stage David Byrne and Joey Ramone stood on at the onset of their careers.
Weird rock is a good thing, and the Fiery Furnaces are card-carrying members of this miscreant club. From the oddball pop of Gallowsbird’s Bark (2003) to the space-prog of Blueberry Boat (2004) to EP (released earlier this year), Matt and Eleanor Friedberger have to this point gotten better with each release while shoving the proverbial envelope right off the table. And it’s often brash to make an umbrella statement such as “sometimes experimentation goes too far,” but that’s exactly what’s happened with the Friedberger siblings’ third full-length, Rehearsing My Choir.
A theme album of sorts, Rehearsing My Choir is based around the mid-20th century memories of the Friedbergers’ eighty-three-year-old grandmother, Olga Sarantos. Pushing it a step further, Sarantos, in her world-weary speaking voice, handles many of the album’s vocals. Meanwhile, the Friedbergers do their usual – Eleanor even plays her vocals off of her grandmother’s.
Thrilling prospect though it may be, the result is a disaster. Many of the lyrics are intriguing, almost poetic, but even the most complicated and beautiful poetry wouldn’t stand up over a background of seemingly random and ever-changing music. At times, the accompaniment shows brilliant flourishes of the Furnaces’ back catalogue, but much of it is musical mush with little-to-no vocal melody. Think awkward high school play put to music written for a different awkward high school play.
If you’ve listened to “Last Call,” the final, lengthy track off Kanye West’s breakthrough album, The College Dropout (or if you’re familiar with hip-hop-album skits in general), you know how this album wears on the ears. The first time through, it’s creative, interesting, even funny. But on repeated listens, each track becomes something to skip through as the longing for the good stuff becomes stronger. Unfortunately for this album, the problem isn’t a skit that can be skipped.
Matt and Eleanor plan to drop (at least) one new album next year, and maybe they’ll again strike experimental gold. Until then, we’re left with this ambitious and admirable disappointment.
Rough Trade Records Web site