Album Review: Eleanor Friedberger – New View

Former Fiery Furnace drifts towards the center

Eleanor Friedberger’s former band, the Fiery Furnaces, had a prolific streak, making the patient arc of her solo career surprising. She’s released three albums in nearly six years, drifting further to the center with each album, moving inward from the outer margins of pop that the Furnaces charted. On New View, Friedberger continues refining a timeless classic rock sound. By ironing out the creases of her once jumpy melodies and instrumentally digging at the definition of folk rock, she’s beginning to sound like a 21st century Bob Dylan. The shift won’t necessarily lead to cries of “Judas,” but it might leave some quietly walking away.

Friedberger’s recent move to the greener pastures of upstate New York from the claustrophobic Brooklyn life, and the change ripples throughout. Her one-off single “False Alphabet City” felt like waving goodbye to her past; despite it being the strongest of her recently recorded music, though, it doesn’t make the cut here. The absence of a track quite as punchy leads to much of the album, especially its first half, washing over without any reason to scramble for the replay button. “Because I Asked You” typifies that problem, something akin to a mid-life crisis at a friend’s summer lake house. This may sound harsh, but it’s all the more frustrating considering that about half the album is some of Friedberger’s best work. It’s too bad that the other half sounds like a band that should be opening for the Counting Crows.

Friedberger spent her formative years honing her vocals on the knotty, operatic songs of the Fiery Furnaces, the type driven by rhythms and melodies that ricocheted in unexpected directions. By 2009’s Take Me Round Again, her vocals were formed into something so versatile that, in just one breath, she could nimbly jump from folk balladeer to garage rocker. Her confidently hushed speak-singing is undoubtedly her best tool, and the full range of her vocal talents are on display on New View.

The ballad “Never is a Long Time” sets the table for the album’s stronger back half. It plays as an emotional sequel to Bob Dylan’s equally lovelorn track “Tomorrow is a Long Time”, and like Dylan, Friedberger is a master of knowing how to stretch and bend a word or phrase to choke every last bit of meaning from a lyric. On “All Known Things”, Friedberger showcases this talent as she coos the phrase, “Your beauty stands/ Alone/ Amongst all known things” — it’s the unquestioned emotional high-water mark on New View.

The album closes out on “A Long Walk”, a six-minute gallop in the mold of “Like a Rolling Stone” that features some eerily similar guitar noodling. The track ultimately highlights both what builds the album up and what tears it down. She’s clearly tapped into a vibrant source of inspiration, but there are inherent risks when treading close to iconic material.

The album’s weaknesses aren’t unforgivable; they just too frequently sound limp and over-saturated in storied traditions. The verve and unpredictability that so frequently fueled her songs are lost and sorely missed. But perhaps they needed to go in order for her to reach the comfortable embrace of her new songs. Or, better yet, maybe she’ll be able to combine the two. The question then, is whether her fans will wait patiently or dart unexpectedly in another direction, much like a Fiery Furnaces tune? Considering this album’s middling results, it could be a little of both.

Essential Tracks: “Never is a Long Time”, “All Known Things”


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