The Beard – EP 45 – Eleanor Friedberger by Beard Radio on Mixcloud

A Most Un-Personal Album by Eleanor FriedbergerEleanor Friedberger must have a great sense of humor. Like a dry martini, just a touch of vermouth. Watch her music videos, listen to her lyrics, look at how she dances. She has secretly always wanted to be a Second City or a Groucho Marx impersonator. A runaway Vaudeville / carnival sideshow perhaps? Regardless of this writer’s esoteric projections of her would be aspirations, Friedberger has grown into her rightful place as a musician. Since her days as one half of the indie-electro brother-sister duo Fiery Furnaces, she has tamed and matured her sound from the frenetic pell-mell vignetting the Furnaces seemed to perfect in the early aughts for their massive underground following toward a more focused vision of her desired sound. Her guitars and keyboards are generaly tight and melodic and only occasionally stray toward the atonal, and seemingly then only as a sly comic reference to her previous incarnation. But more than taming her sound, she has enlarged it as only a seasoned and mature musician—one who makes choices, good ones—in a way that embraces her obvious love of blues rock, synth pop and lyrical storytelling. All three of which she has honed to an incredible degree on Personal Album, her second solo release, which somehow makes greater use of her talents than her excellent solo 2011 debut, Last Summer.

Wesley Stace, the folky-poppy singery-songwritery type, who has used the stage name John Wesley Harding, nebulously wafts his Velvet Underground-esque storytelling ability throughout the album, though necessarily where we know not. Added to Friedberger’s adeptness as spinning yarns as if she’s writing a letter to you—her Minnesota kissing cousin from summer camp—this album surely is ringed with emotionally-tinged tales of the imperceptible plights and miniature loves of everyone’s life. This album is personal, just as is any album, written, recorded, performed, packaged and played, Eleanor is just using that wit of hers again. To quote Holden Caulfield, “Goddamned funny is what it is!”

A Most Un-Personal Album by Eleanor Friedberger

Goddamned good songwriting is what it is actually. The album is broken up in three acts, each segued by a palate cleanser (“Echo or Encore” & “I Am The Past”). The first part is a paean to Bob Dylan’s lovechild he sired with Pavement in the late 90s, with help from George Harrison as a matchmaker, if he were GOB of Arrested Development uttering yet again, over exquisite harmonies and layered melodies performed by a pretty tight band, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Or maybe just experimentation. As on “When I Knew”

When I couldn’t get her out of my head
So I got her out of hers instead
No I couldn’t get her out of my head
So I got her out of hers instead
I know I couldn’t get her out of my head
And then we ended up in…

…bed? What Eleanor is getting at is that everyone makes mistakes. That’s why God made tomorrow. But it is the mistakes that often make us. So that if you can not exorcise your mistakes into a witty and taut indie-pop album, and leave them to become pieces of beautiful pop puzzles that get stuck in the minds of people who listen to them, waking up singing, “If that was goodbye, I must be high,” you would do whatever came naturally to you. “My Own World”, “Tomorrow Tomorrow” and “You’ll Never Know Me” (an ode to the never-was Flaming Lips collaboratation with 60s-era Nico and zombie Clarence Clemons.) is Eleanor telling us that inhabiting somebody else’s shoes is much the same as being in our own. Part two is all just a beautiful dream. Create it as you will.

The denouement is the epic “Other Boys”, which in any other artist’s hands, would be a seven-minute rock opera. Yet in the melancholic celebration of the tristesse of the frailty of human choice, Eleanor somehow merely makes the song—and the album, and life—seem longer than it really is (another Harrison trick to be sure), while still turning in a pop song that you could bounce a quarter off of. It’s an album that will stick with you. You will listen to it all year. You will remember it in five years. It has an aroma and a flavor and it will color this age with the semisweet sadness of remembrance of fun times past.