By Paul Balazs
Eleanor Friedberger is formally known as one-half of the indie rock duo The Fiery Furnaces with her brother Matthew Friedberger from Oak Park, Illinois near Chicago. They started in the year 2000 and made brilliant records until around 2011 when the sibling band split to pursue solo ventures. Matthew has had less critical acclaim than his sister since the last Fiery Furnaces record. I have been listening to Eleanor’s work on-and-off since Blueberry Boat by The Fiery Furnaces in 2004. Now, I find myself listening to New View, her latest album coming out on January 22, 2016.
The album starts off with “He Didn’t Mention His Mother,” which chimes back a familiar sound from her previous work such as Last Summer and Personal Record. Steady and simple with a melancholy overcoat, the hook line offers a little bit of hope and a lot of confusion. The tones used for the guitar solo are very fitting, like a late 90s Pixies or Beck tune. “Open Season” explodes with great guitar triumph. “Open” seems to be a fitting word for the song’s title, because the acoustic landscape paints a perfect backdrop for her soft, elegant voice. Lyrically, Friedberger has a way with words like no other lyricist I have listened to. She finds some of the most random metaphors that really can get an audience to understand the meaning of a song. This playful writing technique is my favorite part of her songs, just as it was my favorite part of The Fiery Furnaces. As “Open Season” drones on through an epic solo section, it crashes directly into “Sweetest Girl”.
“Sweetest Girl” is the first single off of New View, and comes as the most direct song on the record. “Sweet girl with the broken heart // Stop crying so I won’t start,” she says. The song really lets you into Friedberger’s attitude toward those she cares about. Either way, her sentiment is crystal clear. “Your Word” starts with a soft synth intro. While everything is very spacey, the bass in the chorus juxtaposes her melody perfectly. “What you see is the end // And your breath is your bond // When your word is your debt,” she exclaims in a way that conveys her conviction. The note choice reflects the attitude of the lyrics in a way that makes you believe the intentions of the song are real.
“Because I Asked You” starts with a super catchy organ riff. It tells a classic story of “Hey, I want you to let me do what I want. I love you, I asked you to let me do these things, so do them.” It’s passively controlling and very relatable to many people I have encountered in my lifetime. Then, “Never Is a Long Time” tones it down with twinkling guitars and breathy vocals almost like a female Elliott Smith. The simplicity still manages to keep the mix full and ever evolving. “Cathy with the Curly Hair” is a 50s sort of tune, like Buddy Holly got a hold of newer synths and recording equipment. It is a cute, descriptive love story such as many of the songs written during that time as well. The tone drastically drops from upbeat to a rather introspective in a way for “Turn to Tomorrow.” The synths and guitars keep a full landscape like in the previously mentioned track on New View, “Open Season.” The bass line pops out nicely like an upbeat version of “Truth” by Dr. Dog. The tag line “I could only stay for one” really brings out the urge to be at two places at once. Sometimes, no matter where you are, you just want to see what else is available at your fingertips. The song succeeds with an outrageous guitar solo and the fleeting lyric “I could always stay for more” remains at the front of your brain until the song fades into your memory bank.
“All Known Things” reminds me more of what Friedberger had previously released on albums, like 2011’s Last Summer. The organ tone from earlier tracks like “Because I Asked You” still keeps the album pertinent to itself. Like most songs written by Friedberger and her previous works with The Fiery Furnaces, this track really enables you to doze off into a million sounds and directions without a destination or even an inclination to do something about it. “Does Turquois Work” holds a simple, slow, steady groove that builds up at the end to fall perfectly into the final track. The last song, “A Long Walk,” is a great finisher for the album. It uses its lyrical imagery to take you through the progression of a year and then utilizes brief descriptions of the finer things in life; like coffee in the morning, to keep it all in perspective. The story is told like an old Bob Dylan song, in a way. The lead guitar lines are catchy and adventurous like The Grateful Dead or George Harrison. This helps the album in concluding on a positive note, which is paramount for a record like New View.
New View does a great job of staying consistent throughout the length of the album and managing to keep you listening. The songs may not be the best you have ever heard, but they will be able to keep your attention from front to back. There a lot of fun little nuances to discover within New View and a lot of fantastic lyrical messages to wrap your head around too.