With The Fiery Furnaces apparently still locked in the garden shed (I hope someone is checking on brother Michael's well-being from time to time!) Eleanor Friedberger follows-up her 2011 solo album 'Last Summer' with yet another collection of idiosyncratic songs. In my review of her last recording I used the word "workmanlike" (workwomanlike if you like....) to describe her compositional style; the twelve numbers which make up 'Personal Record' continue to plow a not dissimilar furrow. The beats are foursquare, the arrangements refreshingly uncluttered and the melodies simple but effective but it is in Ms Friedberger's lyrics that we find that which is most original about her. Personal, fragile and quirky she knows how to spin a good yarn.
'Echo Or Encore' is an especially affecting example; a gently lilting Latin invention featuring a clunky upright piano and dour double-bass arrangement and words which achieve a curiously haunting and haunted quality. 'Stare At The Sun', with its driving beat and jangly electric guitar seems to have been touched by the spirit of The Velvet Underground; 'When I Knew' rattles along in a nicely awkward way and the delightful fifties-nuanced 'Other Boys' (her finest moment by far) delivers pathos by the bucket load.
This is a delight from start to finish. Eleanor sounds in strong voice, finding an emotive key often absent from recordings under the Fiery Furnaces moniker with brother Matt. The songs are direct, varied, and with instrumentation that harkens back to an imaginary musical time that might be considered mid-70s but is in fact, fully modern. I found the Fiery Furnaces, after their startling debut, annoying. Eleanor's voice and lyrics were always a draw but the hyperactivity of the melodies eventually found me abandoning them as a musical experience (it's usually at this point in an Amazon review when you're supposed to say, 'but don't get me wrong; I like difficult music too' as a way of defending a decision to set aside a band because they may be too intellectual for you). Eleanor exudes a type of feminine cool last practiced by Chrissie Hynde, but with less 'smoke' and more reserve. She's at least as interesting as Marnie Stern or St. Vincent. Have a listen.