Eleanor Friedberger Rebound

[Frenchkiss; 2018]

Styles: mature sentimentality, sentimental maturity
Others: Kaputt-era Destroyer, Julia Holter if she liked Carly Simon better than Laurie Anderson

Catharsis. While promoting her new album Rebound, Eleanor Friedberger has been circling that idea without ever really articulating it. It might be a deliberate omission: spinning Aristotelian philosophy when discussing the songs she wrote during a summer in Greece could be too on the nose. She has, however, provided a quite transparent allegory: Friedberger found the inspiration for this album on the dance floor of a goth-/post-punk-themed club in Athens. There, surrounded by smoke, mesmerized by the Gallupian bass lines and the odd, eccentric, liberated dance moves of the patrons, she found a strange new energy, a sound, the concept for Rebound (which was actually the name of the Athenian club), and perhaps quite a bit more than the next step in her artistic career.

We have all been there, one way or another. It’s late at night, and you start thinking that coming to this club may not have been the best idea, when the adrenaline hits you. Before your brain even registers hearing the song, you’re on the dancefloor, reinvigorated, transformed. It’s the freedom of bouncing around strangers, the rush of shouting the lyrics to a song you half remember sober but whose chorus has that one line that precisely describes your current emotional state. And you let yourself go. The rush is difficult to describe; it’s something closer to a blissed-out release than abandon or transitory alienation. It’s possible that Friedberger, known for a decade of idiosyncratic indie rock with The Fiery Furnaces and her refined singersongwritery solo work, went through that exact experience on a Saturday night in Athens. She depicts such a scene in Rebound’s first single, “In Between Stars,” using a quasi mythological description of the Greek coastline to resignify her transformation among the blinding lights of an Athenian dancefloor. It is rebirth on an Olympian scale, celestial bodies and the elements becoming one with her, taking her over.

It’s hard to resist the temptation to limit our analysis of the impact and extent of such a metamorphosis to the way Friedberger’s songs sound. On a surface level, the album represents an evident break with her past work: the prominent synths, the drum machines, the lack of guitars and other indie/classic rock signifiers. Yet Rebound goes well beyond the surface in its transformative scope. While Friedberger’s new songs are still characterized by sober tenderness and well-honed romanticism, they take on a more minimalistic quality in comparison to her previous solo work, mutating in form and content, trading longer narrative forms for powerfully poetic aphorisms. The Dylan-esque magma of “Scenes From Bensonhurst” and the virtuosic classicism of “He Didn’t Mention His Mother,” respectively off solo debut Last Summer (2011) and New View (2016), are notably set aside. Rebound’s verses are shorter and tend toward repetition, turning into epigrammatic discharges. Again, this concision could be a feature deliberately searched by Friedberger. Cathartic dancefloor experiences fare better when mouthing-out short snippets, let alone if they pack an ambiguously profound punch. Almost by design, Rebound has plenty of those: “We’re 17 years away/ Let’s dream our, goodbyes but don’t go” (“The Letter”), “Who cares what you think is mine/ I wanted everything” (“Everything”), etc.

Then again, the fact that these songs were birthed thanks to a cathartic impulse doesn’t negate the vignettes of love, melancholy, and the many complexities of the emotional lives of adults that Friedberger has masterfully studied before. Nor does she abandon the classic rock sensibilities that informed her past albums. Indeed, in terms of sound, Rebound is not entirely unprecedented in Friedberger’s career: “My Mistakes” and “Roosevelt Island,” off Last Summer, already featured bubbly organ melodies, though the drums were very much analog and guitarwork central to them. Conversely, while they may chime more discretely in Rebound, guitars are still at least amply present on the record, wrapped around lush synthwork and dance-friendly beats. In a way, this puts Rebound closer to the new wave-adjacent works of classic rock titans like Pete Townshend or Joni Mitchell than the disco-goth makeover one might imagine at first. Moreover, while the new album might be unified by the distinctly synthetic palette it uses, it nevertheless encapsulates a diverse set of arrangements and melodies — sometimes subtly funky, others dreamier, austere, or jazzier. It’s like, in the marriage of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s verses and the synthetic sophistication of Soft Cell, Friedberger has found the perfect outlet for her explorations of memories and sentimentality. That synthesis shapes Rebound’s heart, with the economical passion of “Nice To Be Nowhere,” “Show Early Spring,” and “My Jesus Phase” as its best examples.

It’s the latter transformation that invites us to consider Rebound a more relevant step for Eleanor Friedberger than a transitory experiment with synths and drum machines. Four albums into her career we can look back and recognize a rationale, an evolution, a march toward the present. If not tracing the arc of her sentimental autobiography, those albums can at least be framed as skillful essays on how to best dress the themes overarching Friedberger’s compositions. In the case of Last Summer, a chronicle of her coming of age in New York, she evoked the pop/arty/classic combination that might have soundtracked those days — say Neil Young, George Harrison, and Lou Reed. For Personal Record, a metatextual meditation on her love affair with music (and the relationships she built through it), Friedberger anchored her songs in the early-70s echoes of electric pianos and laidback beats that characterized the more ambitious works of Van Morrison or Donovan. Lastly, in New View, an album about changes and returns, memories and the effect of time’s passage in romantic relations, she dug her roots firmly into the canon of 1970s folk rock. Rebound, on the other hand and despite its evident connections to a specific type of 1980s music, is an album written very much in the present: a work of emotional maturity where the dizzying memories of youth, the infatuated giddiness of new love, or the safety of domesticity have been dealt with and overcome. All the baggage left in some Aegean shore. Hence, in Rebound, Friedberger meets mementos of happier times and opportunities for immediate joy with identical ease. And that is the promise, making her latest album an intriguing open door from an artist who continues to grow in all possible ways.

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