Words by Brian Salvatore
Eleanor Friedberger was a member of the Fiery Furnaces alongside her brother for many years, and their brand of indie rock was rooted in the unexpected – tempo shifts, abrupt starts and stops, and no two songs sounding the same. Friedberger has now released three solo albums, and each one has pulled her a little further away from the Fiery Furnaces sound; New View, her most recent album, is almost comically consistent and straightforward, compared to her past work.
This isn’t necessarily a knock on the album. New View is a strong batch of songs, produced and performed immaculately by Friedberger, her backing band Icewater, and producer Clemens Knieper. The record has a Laurel Canyon by way of Real Estate vibe: acoustic guitars, simple drumming, shimmering electric guitar melodies dancing on top, with Friedberger’s strong and distinctive vocals taking center stage on each track.
But the album does have a definitive sound and vibe, and sometimes you can get lost in that. If you listen to this record while doing the dishes or taking a walk, tracks pass, but the songs are similar enough that you may not notice until you’re a good minute or so into it. “Never a Long Time,” which hits right in the middle of the album, is a nice change of pace that helps set the stage for the second half of the record. If there were a few more songs that were this dynamically different, it would help break up the listening experience a little bit.
Ultimately, the biggest knock on this album is that it isn’t Personal Record, Friedberger’s excellent 2013 offering. That album had “Stare at the Sun,” one of the best pop songs of the millennium – I’m not kidding – and the entire record was co-written with Wesley Stace, the artist formerly known as John Wesley Harding. Stace and Friedberger wrote so well together that this album feels a little empty without his contributions. It isn’t as if New View has less hooks, or inferior lyrics, but Stace is such a great songwriter that he elevates every project he joins.
New View has a fair number of great songs – “All Known Things,” “He Didn’t Mention His Mother,” – and makes for an extraordinarily pleasant listen. There is nothing offensive or misplaced on the album – but maybe that’s what the album needed. If it isn’t going for the sheen of Personal Record, maybe it should’ve been looking to borrow a little bit of the unpredictability of her old band.
© January 22nd, 2016
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