Indie rock's most charming conversationalist hits a new pinnacle
Among midlife indie kids working a sidelong vision of classic-rock ecstasy, there aren't many doing it with more grace or smarts than Eleanor Friedberger. She's been at it since the early 2000s – first with her brother Matthew in the Fiery Furnaces, and now as a solo artist – and she's currently hitting an artistic peak. Her last album, 2013's Personal Record, was her best yet, setting richly drawn, empathetic character sketches of adorably bumfuzzled romantics to economically rangy guitar ruminations à la Stephen Malkmus and Wilco in finest fireside hangout mode. Friedberger's third solo outing builds on that.The Chicago-bred singer-guitarist works one of rock's finest faux-British accents, sounding like an early-Seventies prog-folkie. It's a perfect vocal vibe for music that can recall the very late Beatles and New Morning-era Dylan, but ultimately evokes nothing so much as what might happen if the cover art from Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece had a weekend fling with the cover art from Yo La Tengo's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.
Friedberger's lyrics feel a little more autobiographical this time out. The list of compliance requests she reads an auditioning boyfriend over Billy Preston-ish organs on "Because I Asked You" includes "treat me like a tennis pro" and "help me out with my rewrites." The elegiac "Open Season" is a stocktaking call to an ex girded by tender, sunbursting guitars. The album ends with "A Long Walk," where her great backing band goes on a spree and Friedberger recounts a day-long stroll that turns dramatically when she and her hiking buddy accidentally bump shoulders while laughing together and hits peak cute as they "kiss in front of strangers like regular lovers do." She ends up taking the bus home to "write this song alone," but it's still a win-win: awesome day for her, excellent music for us.