Music Reviews
Rehearsing My Choir

Fiery Furnaces Rehearsing My Choir

(Rough Trade) Rating - 8/10

Warning: Do not buy this album on my recommendation. Odds are you won't like it - at all. This review will be aimed at the 5 or 6 of you out there who have a jones for the compelling weirdness of the avant-garde. You know who you are. Frustrated from failed attempts at explaining the genius of Captain Beefheart to your friends? Hypnotised by the abyss of Nico's The Marble Index? Only guy on your block who has heard of Pere Ubu? Are you jamming right now to the mad invention of the new Animal Collective? Then you came to the right place. The rest of you "normal" people need read no further.

What, you're still here? I guess that means I'm going to have to make a vain attempt to convince you that this is an album worth your time. That's great, except first I have to figure out why I like it so much. I've long struggled to develop a rational explanation for my reaction to this kind of music, ever since I became obsessed with Trout Mask Replica and the rest of the Beefheart oeuvre. You place the shiny CD in your player and this horrible, almost painful noise assaults you. At first it sounds random, but then you realize it's actually quite meticulously structured. And you sit there and wonder, "why would someone go to so much trouble to organize notes into this god-awful racket?" If done with passion and intelligence, I find this kind of organized disarray irresistible. That must be it, coupled with a healthy dose of the car accident effect - you know, "it's hideous, yet I cannot look away".

Reviewing the Furnace's EP a while back I wondered if the band would take top honors over Arcade Fire for "Band of the Decade". Who knows what the Fire are going to do next, but the Furnaces are staking a claim. I'm not sure if it's still possible to label any CD release brave anymore, since the best bands don't have a significant audience to risk losing in the first place. Furthermore, Blueberry Boat had already carved out the POMO rock niche for the band, so the fans are expecting some degree of experimentation. But the almost uniformly hostile reaction to Rehearsing My Choir tells you that the siblings have finally gone too far, which is to say just far enough. Composing song fragments to lay under the melodramatic, barely coherent ramblings of your 83-year-old grandmother is an insular, self-involved, but yes, brilliant conceit. Why? Because it's so clearly a colossal joke, and one that works because all the participants are comfortable enough with each other to laugh at themselves before we can.

There should be no question, however, that what holds this all together is wonderful music. Almost every tiny fragment these guys churn out hooks its barbs right into your skin. I hesitate to use the word, but certainly there is some genius behind this Joycean display of invention. Nothing here is as boldly radical as Ella Guru or Neon Meate Dream of a Octofish, but the disjointed nature of the fragments, coupled with grandma's deliberately literal presentation of the story, results in a product that is, in its own way, completely insane.

And that's why I love it. So should you.