Review Summary: Today I'm frozen, but tomorrow I'll write about you.
That Eleanor Friedberger’s third record is her most classic one yet, steeped in well-worn ‘70s singer-songwriter tropes and warm, folksy tones isn’t necessarily a surprise, given her trajectory post-Fiery Furnaces. Where brother and former bandmate Matthew Friedberger has revealed himself to be the mad genius behind ill-advised concepts like the Fiery Furnaces’ 2005’s Rehearsing My Choir
, releasing a series of impressively/frustratingly difficult solo records, Eleanor has sharpened her hooks. Echoes of Laurel Canyon and homages to trad-rock and artists like Nilsson and Dylan have always marked her work, but where Last Summer
was Friedberger finding her footing and Personal Record
an uncomfortably thrilling incision, New View
is content and assured, more at ease than Friedberger has ever been. Her move from Brooklyn to upstate New York to record has been lazily marked as the driving force behind this album, but it’s Friedberger’s own willingness to turn inward that separates this album.
may be the best synthesis of Friedberger’s retro sound and her quirky alto, quick with a run of syllables or a lyrical turn of phrase that few artists could grasp without sounding mush-mouthed. Given the admittedly oversaturated (some would say played-out) scene Friedberger’s alt-pop now finds itself in, and its unpretentious musical conventions, this is easily a record that could feel lifeless. And occasionally it does. “Sweetest Girl” is a clunky melody in search of a hook, while songs like “Two Versions of Tomorrow” and the psychedelic morass of “Does Turquoise Work"” are pleasantly inconsequential. But the jaggedness of her earlier work is tempered here, replaced by a perspective that feels refreshingly distant and, yes, a little lonely.
“Open Season” is a paean to what almost sounds like domesticity, or at least a healthy remove from society, whereas “A Long Walk” is almost deliriously self-centered. That latter track is uncharacteristically focused on a single day and a single feeling – unbridled joy, marked by a playful guitar line like a series of flares. On the bouncy “Cathy With The Curly Hair,” the hurt of a decaying relationship is told through the happy separation of nostalgia. Friedberger’s hopeful but knowing wink to herself – “Do you still live with Cathy, with the curly hair" / Yeah, but I’ve been waiting for a tall half-Greek girl to take me away from here” – is another in a long line of rambling, eminently listenable phrases that transform crushingly personal anecdotes into art.
On “Never Is A Long Time,” Friedberger strips away everything but a rich acoustic melody and a drum that occasionally thunders in from the frame like a drunk, taking the gilded memories of a broken relationship that “Cathy With The Curly Hair” serves up and shining a pitiless spotlight on the truth. “Sometimes the hands stop moving / some clouds won’t ever shine / we were our own undoing / now it’s on November / hiding all the summer’s crimes / all the things I’ll never remember / never is a long time.” In the past Friedberger would have obscured this kind of emotion with ancillary descriptions and tongue twisting wordplay, but “Never Is A Long Time” cuts to the bone. At its worst, New View
can come off like background music, not necessarily a negative when the music is as charming as this and Friedberger remains an affably engaged host. But songs like “Never Is A Long Time,” the confessions running through “He Didn’t Mention His Mother,” and the delight of “A Long Walk” reveal a storyteller who has never been more self-aware, however well she masks the anxiety this may bring. You almost wish Friedberger would unleash more of that nervous energy that sometimes overwhelmed Personal Record
, but with a record as lovingly crafted as New View
, it would be wrong to ignore what remains: a songwriter with as distinct a voice as anyone in indie.