Review Summary: When a 'Rebound' turns into a reboot
Sometimes a subtle shift is all it takes. A greater emphasis on this or that element, an instrumental tweak or two, a few new song writing quirks rolling off the conveyor belt. Eleanor Friedberger was operating in such a cosy niche that if you're not fully invested you can listen to this, her fourth solo album, and initially not realise that something absolutely fundamental has changed. ‘Rebound' is the brightest of bright new starts, a totally fresh approach, but can you the listener even tell？
To help understand this shift it's useful to chop these ten songs into three separate and distinct piles. The first grouping is the most important, the most successful, and (intriguingly) the most different from her usual approach. Friedberger wrote all the songs on this album while visiting Greece, floating outside her usual environment, and this different perspective is most apparent on this first pleasantly askew selection of songs. There’s a dreamy out of step and distinctly European feel to the opening pairing of ‘My Jesus Phase’ and ‘The Letter’ that approach the sort of style Dan Bejar luxuriated in for his own career-injection reboot ‘Kaputt’. Meanwhile ’Nice to Be Nowhere’ floats into the night like a half drunk Julee Cruise; the only thing stopping this being regarded as the most coolly evocative song of the year is it arrived too late to make last year's Twin Peaks soundtrack. Finally we have set closer ‘Rule of Action’, a song that somewhat steals Beach House’s thunder by, yes, providing the best Beach House song of the year. This track is glorious, Friedberger’s overlaid vocals trading styles and meshing with a series of cosmic keyboard melodies and lazy-hazy guitar lines.
If that first grouping of songs doesn’t snag you, perhaps the second lot will？Certainly some critics have held up a red card to this release claiming it’s low energy Fleetwood Mac cribbing adult contemporary and it's this next selection of songs they're pointing the guilty finger at. Still, it's not such a criticism if you welcome the idea of a little Christine McVie channeled through a more indie-sensibility sporting vessel like we have here. ‘Everything Everything’ isn’t a dedication in song to the band of the same name, rather it’s an obvious lead single and the catchiest tune of the set. It’s more deadpan than the very deadest of pans with Eleanor claiming she wants ‘two houses please…a life that’s quiet and nice’. The other obvious ‘hit’ on the album is ‘Make Me a Song’ which is one of those rare tunes with a multi-part chorus that just keeps on giving for what feels like an age; a good thing on a track that rides an old fashioned Abba-esque rhythm and where most of the lyrics concern (you guessed it) the power of music. ‘In Between Moons’ is the final song in this grouping and it’s the weakest and most obvious, though it still has its more mysterious elements (primarily the minimal sections following the abrupt tempo shifts); overall it skirts a little too close to blandness in places and shows that this is the future avenue Friedberger should avoid, as tempting as it might be. Stay detached, but never enter the realms of 'unengaging'.
My final grouping mops up the three remaining songs and constitute more of a grab bag of quirky pop numbers, leaning closer to the type of recent fare you’d expect from St. Vincent. ‘It’s Hard’ transports us back to the early ‘80s with the sort of guitar tones you’d find on King Crimson’s ‘Discipline’ in its more relaxed moments. This song is perhaps the 'microcosm song' on ‘Rebound’; not only does it refer to ‘rebound time’ in the lyrics, it also sounds the most drugged up (musically and lyrically) and forces the listener to picture Eleanor swaying while dancing to a song she thinks ’sounds familiar but it’s sure not The Cure'. It’s ‘Are We Good？’ where the St. Vincent comparisons really come into play though; another vaguely robotic number with stabbing guitar and a near spoken word delivery dropping bizarre goofy word plays like ‘I played croquet…it was croquet’ that bring to mind dream logic reasoning. Sadly ‘Showy Early Spring’ is not only lumbered with the most forgettable track title on the album, it also sports the least engaging arrangement. Chalk it up as the biggest misstep here and the closest to outright filler; hey, perfection can end up an ugly quality sometimes anyway.
It might take more than a few attentive listens to hear just what it is that Friedberger has achieved with ‘Rebound’ and to acknowledge that she’s well on her way to totally redefining her song craft. The warm strumming and strident country-ish notes in her voice from earlier outings are gone and nowhere to be found, cast aside to make space for something a little more standoffish, more abstract, perhaps more alien even. It's satisfying to watch a snake shed its skin and reveal a fresh layer beneath; you can focus on the old translucent husk of scales or you can move on. Get onboard.