Eleanor Friedberger writes specific, experiential songs that stick to you like burrs hooked onto a denim jacket. Spend a little time with her music, and you’ll inevitably carry some of them into your own life. Her debut solo album, 2011’s Last Summer, came out a month before I went to New York for the first time. I think about that week and I hear Friedberger’s "Roosevelt Island," one of the most exciting urban adventures put to music this decade.
She spends the song riding around the city with a friend, one who’s so cool it makes her a little giddy; they pick up some drugs uptown and get back on the train, and every new place they visit feels so dazzling they can’t imagine ever being anywhere else. It’s a song about the city, of course — where else could you spend a whole day making subway trips — but that’s not why it lingers. It’s alive with the glory of youth and drunk on possibility. I listened to it while taking my first steps into Manhattan, and it felt like there was a new life waiting for me just around every street corner.
Friedberger’s latest album is called New View, and it’s the third she’s released since the dissolution of The Fiery Furnaces, the indie rock band she anchored alongside brother Matthew throughout the ‘00s. It’s not as ambitious or eclectic as Last Summer, an album that leapt from funk to folk to pop-soul and back again, but it’s warm, rambling, and assured. And while much of Friedberger’s best solo work has mined romantic or social anxiety, New View finds her navigating the world with relative ease. That doesn’t mean it’s boring, but it’s consciously minor.
These are elegant, efficient songs
Friedberger is a good singer and a better writer, and she doesn’t have any problems mining contentment for songs that unfurl with the elegance and efficiency of fine short stories. Last Summer and Personal Record found her occasionally eschewing straightforward singing for rapid-fire, single-note narration, a strategy she’d use to cram insane amounts of detail into three-minute songs. (You can hear an example on the latter’s brisk "Stare at the Sun," where she stuffs the line, "In the back of the taxi, you turned off the TV and read me a book on your phone" into a single breath.) She lets her worn alto bear more weight on New View, and she focuses on repeated, evocative lines instead of scenes that whizz by like trees past a car window.
"Sweetest Girl" contains the most powerful, poignant example. It’s one of a few songs on New View where Friedberger is offering counsel instead of receiving it: "Sweet girl with the broken heart / stop crying so I won’t start." A few songs later, she insists, "Your beauty stands alone / amongst all known things" on "All Known Things," a sweet picture of a romance. (It’s funny, too: Friedberger sings, "Even if you had a twin / I wouldn’t notice her or him.") Her voice sits right in the middle of these songs, which were recorded live-to-tape in an upstate New York barn, and her delivery is conversational. When she sings, "Have you seen the movie yet? There’s a lot about it in the press" at the beginning of "Open Season," you’re tempted to answer.
"I hope that this album just sounds like an adult woman who's okay."
Waiting in line to see an Oscar contender feels like the kind of moment in which New View thrives. These songs won’t worm your way into your life’s biggest moments — the moment you see the skyline for the first time, the minute you decide your relationship isn’t working — but they’ll find other homes: a kiss on the forehead before you leave for work, a bottle of wine split with a friend who’s just been spurned. It’s a small album for small pleasures, and Friedberger knows it: "I hope that this album just sounds like an adult woman who’s okay, as boring as that sounds," she said in an interview with The Guardian. "I don’t want to sound like I’m miserable… I think if you don’t want to come across as being upset or angry or hurt or jaded or disappointed, then you just have to not be. I think it’s that simple."