This Eleanor Friedberger was written by James Dawson, a GIGsoup contributor
Over the last decade, solo and as a member of The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor Friedberger has carved out a fascinating niche with her oddball pop. The wild, untamed absurdism of her early Furnaces material has long-since evolved into a more refined songwriter style, but on “New View”, her third solo album that sense of the unexpected still drives her best material.
The sonic texture has shifted from the crazed pace of early Fiery Furnaces and the cool retro-chic of Friedberger’s two solo albums, “Last Summer” (2010) and “Personal Record” (2013.) Backed by New York band Icewater, “New View’s” palate is significantly mellower, with mostly relaxed tempos and the warmth and stridency of Jonathan Rosen’s bass and Malcolm Perkins’ guitar reflecting the rusticity of Friedberger’s new Upstate New York surroundings.
With Friedberger’s music, though, nothing remains on an even keel. Even the most laidback moments carry the threat that they might collapse or explode. “He Didn’t Mention His Mother” is so pleasantly unassuming, you might not even notice it until the chorus looms up, the bitterness and loss in Friedberger’s voice giving way to Perkins’ stunning guitar line. The dullest song, the programmatic “Sweetest Girl”, barely registers until an arching Wurlitzer piano rises at the transcendent end leading it perfectly in the sparkling intro of the next song, “Your Word.” And with “A Long Walk” the story is perhaps more in Perkins’ emphatic guitar, threaded through the song, than in Friedberger’s lyrics. Time and again her more ponderous moments (her only persistent flaw) are offset by the brightness and versatility of the musicians.
Ever since The Fiery Furnaces’ later albums, listening to Friedberger has been like taking a walk down a city street and struggling to take in what you see: the mundanity of everyday life in her jaded voice coming up against the breathlessness, the plain weirdness, of the modern world. On perhaps her best song, “When I Knew”, from “Personal Record”, you go from a loft in Brooklyn to Dallas via a London basement. Characters drift through the world, into and out of each other’s lives.
“New View” is no different. On the opener, “He Didn’t Mention His Mother”, random objects bring back a flood of sour memories, the insistent, irresistible “Cathy With The Curly Hair” puts two estranged lovers next to each other on a city bus, forcing them to relive their shared past. While with the closer “A Long Walk”, a couple go for a day out, walking through the city before the singer abandons her boyfriend and jumps on a bus home to write the song.
With “New View” Friedberger has delivered her best solo effort. As “A Long Walk” and many others here show, her odd, emotional and sardonic explorations of the quirks and contradictions of everyday life are as compelling, to us and to her, as ever. As she sang with The Fiery Furnaces, “the longest way around is the sweetest way home.” Her journeys just get more and more interesting.