10:29am

Mon July 8, 2013
Music Reviews

Eleanor Friedberger's 'Personal Record' Examines The Little Things

One major source of pleasure in the music Eleanor Friedberger makes as half of The Fiery Furnaces is a matter of sheer density — the density of The Fiery Furnaces' musical ideas, the thick layers of words, lyrics that operate as dense sounds with meaning to be extracted from them. By contrast, the music and lyrics Friedberger has crafted for the aptly titled Personal Record aren't of lighter weight — as an artist, she's never a lightweight — but these new songs possess a buoyancy that can belie the words.

In "I Don't Want to Bother You," a lovely melody contains a lyric in which the narrator protests against complacency and mere contentment. She sings that while the person she's addressing the song to has given her everything she'd ever wanted, she wants something riskier: "I want to be scared and I want to be haunted / Judgment impaired by despair." Doubtful, unsure and thrown off-balance by someone else's opinions and desires — these are some of the elements that inspire the sound of this new album.

Eleanor Friedberger has collaborated on all of these new songs with John Wesley Harding, the British singer-songwriter and novelist. It's always dicey for an outsider to try and guess who contributed what in any given composition, but generally speaking, what I hear on this album that distinguishes it from Friedberger's previous solo and Fiery Furnaces work is a certain tightening of the rhyme schemes, as well as a narrowing of focus. A song such as "My Own World," for instance, sounds like the sort of composition that could have been written by British novelists who specialize in small, quiet moments, such as Henry Green or Ivy Compton-Burnett. It prizes quietude and the way small, everyday actions — working at a desk, clipping coupons — can illuminate a state of mind.

In a recent interview, Friedberger said that one goal of this album was to "write beautiful love songs that could be about you, your ex-boyfriend or your aunt." That's actually a very ambitious goal, couched in modesty. And that's what the best of this so-called Personal Record attempts: to locate the wonder and elation to be experienced from living the most ordinary moments of one's life with as much awareness as possible.

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Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Eleanor Friedberger is best known for the numerous albums she's recorded with her brother Matthew as the band The Fiery Furnaces. She also has a new solo album - her second - called "Personal Record." Her collaborator here is songer-songwriter John Wesley Harding. Music critic Ken Tucker has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER: (singing) In the back of the taxi you turned off the TV and read me a book on your phone. Here's the return of your skeleton key. Oh, baby, the places we've gone. If that was good-bye then I must be high. You know I'll be seeing you soon. If that was good-bye then the snow in July is in your hand in the middle of June...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: One major source of pleasure in the music Eleanor Friedberger makes as half of Fiery Furnaces is a matter of sheer density - the density of The Fiery Furnaces' musical ideas, the thick layers of words, lyrics that operate as dense sounds with meaning to be extracted from them. By contrast, the music and lyrics Friedberger has crafted for the aptly titled "Personal Record" aren't of lighter weight - as an artist, she's never a lightweight - but these new songs possess a buoyancy that can belie the words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T WANT TO BOTHER YOU")

FRIEDBERGER: (singing) I don't want to bother you but there's something to say that I want you to hear. It's hard when you're far out; I forget when you're near. I'd rather be two inches from your face than floating about in a different state. I don't want to bother you but there's something to say. I don't want to bother you...

TUCKER: That's "I Don't Want to Bother You," a lovely melody that contains a lyric in which the narrator protests against complacency and mere contentment. She sings that while the person she's addressing the song to has given her everything she'd ever wanted, she wants something riskier. Quote, "I want to be scared and I want to be haunted, Judgment impaired by despair."

Doubtful, unsure and thrown off-balance by someone else's opinions and desires - these are some of the elements that inspire the sound of this new album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN I KNEW")

FRIEDBERGER: (singing) I could see the tops of her white socks just beneath her desk. Her pants didn't reach all the way down her legs. And you know what happened next? I said hi politely and we went to town for coffee. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And that was when I knew, oh, that was when I knew I was wrong, wrong, wrong all along. Oh, that was when I knew, yeah...

TUCKER: Eleanor Friedberger has collaborated on all of these new songs with John Wesley Harding, the British singer-songwriter and novelist. It's always dicey for an outsider to try and guess who contributed what in any given composition, but generally speaking, what I hear on this album that distinguishes it from Friedberger's previous solo and Fiery Furnaces work is a certain tightening of the rhyme schemes, and a narrowing of focus.

A song such as "My Own World," for instance, sounds like the sort of composition that could have been written by British novelists of small, quiet moments, such as Henry Green or Ivy Compton-Burnett. It prizes quietude and the way small, everyday actions - working at a desk, clipping coupons - can illuminate a state of mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY OWN WORLD")

FRIEDBERGER: (singing) I was living and breathing and sitting quite quietly watching the TV and minding my diet. Oh, I moved from my desk onto my treadmill and I tried to move mountains or nothing but molehills. So what do you what do you want to interrupt me for, girl? Leave me in my own world, own world.

TUCKER: In a recent interview, Friedberger said that one goal of this album was to, quote, "write beautiful love songs that could be about you, your ex-boyfriend or your aunt." That's actually a very ambitious goal, couched in modesty. And that's what the best of this so-called "Personal Record" attempts: to locate the wonder and elation to be enjoyed from living the most ordinary moments of one's life with as much awareness as possible.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker reviewed Eleanor Friedberger's new solo album called "Personal Record."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'LL NEVER KNOW ME")

FRIEDBERGER: (singing) You'll never know me but it's not from any lack of trying...

DAVIES: You can download Podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org. Follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.