My girlfriend and I agree on pretty much everything — movies, books, music, food, politics — we’re quite well matched. But there are a few exceptions in each category. I don’t like onions, she doesn’t care for tomatoes, for instance. And in music there are even fewer exceptions, but some notable ones at that. I like the Queens of the Stone Age. She doesn’t. Okay, fair enough, they’re not my favorite band or anything. But the other major band she doesn’t like is The Fiery Furnaces. That one, I can accept, but I happen to like them a lot more than the Queens, and, quite frankly, are one band that I wish more people liked. Nonetheless, she doesn’t, and if that’s something we disagree on, I can live with that. And quite frankly, I don’t see it reversing anytime soon.
Case in point: Rehearsing My Choir. This record even has hardcore Furnace fans apprehensive, to the point of labeling the record “unlistenable” and a “trainwreck” on message boards. Believe me, I understand. This record is difficult. It’s difficult in a way that few records are capable of being. It’s not death metal, free-jazz, noise or minimalist drones. It’s just really fucking weird.
Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, rather than take on most of the vocal duties on their own here, enlisted their grandmother Olga Sarantos, as the album is something of a concept record about her life. Or something. However, a lot of people have described Sarantos’ presence as singing, when, in actuality, it’s more narration than anything else. It’s charming and quirky, but probably a little too creepy for many peoples’ taste. And it does take some getting used to. She does introduce the album well, chanting “Faster hammers! Faster hammers! Churn and turn into my late train to my lost love!” And her dialogue with Eleanor on “The Wayward Granddaughter” is amusing (“E: Once upon a time there were two Kevins O:You mean there were two jerks“). And the tribute is touching. Still, don’t expect to hear a hit out of this record anytime soon.
What’s really interesting about this record is how enjoyable the music is and how colorful Matthew’s arrangements are. “The Wayward Granddaughter” and “Forty-Eigh Twenty-Three Twenty-Second Street” both have great melodies and stylistic shifts. But everything changes so quickly, it’s hard to warm up to one melody before another begins. Like the musical theater they merely alluded to on Blueberry Boat, Choir works more like a story told through song and between-note monologues. In that respect, it works well, though I can’t help thinking that I’d enjoy it more if I actually had a visual to go along.
The bottom line on Rehearsing My Choir is that it’s far from unlistenable. There are many enjoyable moments, and there is plenty of whimsical music to go along with the strange tales of Olga Sarantos’ youth. But it’s still fucking weird. I’m still warming up to it, myself. I can’t fault the band for their ambition, however, because, even though this isn’t quite the follow-up to Blueberry Boat that I was hoping for, it is an interesting record, and one that rewards patience. It’s not going to convert my girlfriend, however, and I’m probably much better off waiting for Bitter Tea (the band’s forthcoming, supposedly Devo-esque record) to even try.
Philip Glass – Einstein on the Beach
…that’s about the best I can do.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.