The Fiery Furnaces - Rehearsing My Choir

The Tuesday afternoon, old weepie film is dusted off and put onto CD form for the romantic, thoughtful and nostalgic at heart listeners, by the Chicago born The Fiery Furnaces, who are built around the quirky Friedbergers siblings of Mat & Eleanor. The story of the erstwhile choir leader Olga Sarantos, spans the 1920’s in Chigaco and takes you right the way through to the whiling present, but not in chronological order. Come on, this is The Fiery Furnaces we are dealing with, if you want predictability then I am sure the Nine Black Alps album is on its way to a bargain bin near you soon.

Mat picks up the vocal mantle early on, sounding uncannily like a wise old grandma to give the tracks authenticity and oil. Slow and creeping organs help push home the lost and confused feel, as we start off in the modern day, by way of opener; 'Garfield El'. This number and the rustically haunting ‘The Wayward Granddaughter’ (the latter not being based on the central character just to keep you awake), gives you a jolting reminder of the rustic, roving and novel nature of Da Furnaces.

Eleanor’s calming, compelling and authoritative; Patty Griffin pushing passed Patty Smith vocals joins in the havoc raking, old fashioned indie/folk/noire carnival flittingly, to hurry matters along. Quaintly quivering organ shunted accompaniments help to transport you slowly into the time period and the place covered in the songs. This is no better demonstrated than in the eerie and reflective; ‘A Candymaker’s Knife In My Handbag’ that introduces the topic of Zombies to add an extra chilli to this intriguing musical stew.

Although, the extraordinary tale of the ordinary Olga that sees more love troubles than on the Readers’ Letters page of Bella, gets a little truncated at times, due to the chosen format; Mat soon has you empathising and struggling with the heroine. His clarity and coherence bounce out at you in the thrusting ‘Seven Silver Curses’. Another departure from the main character’s plight; ‘Slavin Away‘, sees Olga generalising and fantasizing about the struggles of her Chicagan peers, to provide a broader perspective to matters and stop you getting lost in the tale.

The Fiery Furnaces have managed to pull off a bold, daring and gripping stunt, in what is now there fourth full length offering. It only seems like yesterday purists were noodle scratching at the sauntering and idiosyncratic debut; ‘Gallowbirds Bark’. They hadn’t seen anything near the full range of the outfit then and nor have we even now. The music scene sorely needs an outfit like this to keep you on your toes.

David Adair

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