"Rehearsing My Choir"

Rough Trade

Although they sometimes employ supporting musicians, the Fiery Furnaces are essentially a duo: singer-drummer Eleanor Friedberger and her songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist brother, Matthew. So it may come as a surprise that a new member, vocalist Olga Sarantos, is listed first in the credits on the Brooklyn band's fourth album, "Rehearsing My Choir." But the disc is just as much a family endeavor as its predecessors: Sarantos is the Friedbergers' grandmother, and this song cycle is her impressionistic, semi-fictionalized autobiography. It includes memories of romance, anecdotes about being a church choir director and -- in "Guns Under the Counter" -- the tale of a shootout near a doughnut factory.

Some passages feature rowdy rock guitar, but "Rehearsing My Choir" is basically a work of minimalist musical theater. The dominant instruments are Matthew Friedberger's keyboards, which range from old-timey piano rags to churchly organ to Steve Reich-like pulse patterns. These support Sarantos's deep-voiced spoken reminiscences, which are contrasted and overlapped with Eleanor Friedberger's soprano singing. The effect is texturally rich, if also a bit alienating. For all its artfulness, "Rehearsing My Choir" is still some stranger's oral history. The Furnaces' previous opus, "Blueberry Boat," was fascinating yet uninvolving, and so is this. It's just that this time Matthew Friedberger uses grandma's intimate remembrances rather than pirate fantasies to distance his music from its listeners.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Saturday at the Black Cat with the Child Ballads and Sunday at Rams Head Live in Baltimore with Metal Hearts.