Eleanor Friedberger – New View

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Eleanor Friedberger – New View

Released January 22nd, 2016 on Frenchkiss Records

Eleanor Friedberger is best known as being half of indie also-rans The Fiery Furnaces, who once did an entire album with their grandmother.  She is also the muse behind “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” by Franz Ferdinand, and “Anything You Want” by Spoon.  She’s never been one of the more enticing songwriters on my radar, which is why 2013’s Personal Record was such a surprise.  That album showed that Friedberger had a finely tuned sense of pop urgency, a bouncy sense of melody tied into tight arrangements that were undercut with a sort of jittery nervousness, like the songs had all been up too late drinking large amounts of coffee.  Some of the tracks bordered on the anthemic, and despite my lack of enthusiasm for The Fiery Furnaces Personal Record ended up on my year-end list for 2013.

Most of what made Personal Record so great is missing on New View.  The airtight arrangements have been replaced with drawn-out jams that border on early Neil Young a lot of the time (including the spacey, one-note guitar leads).  It’s a rambing, homespun album that keeps Ms. Friedberger’s interesting sense of phrasing and lyrical bent and ditches everything else.  In an interview with The Guardian, she said “I hope that this album just sounds like an adult woman who’s okay, as boring as that sounds!”  Eleanor, the concept does sound boring, and the execution does it no favours.  Surely there must be something that’s bothering you.  Art is about communication, in its essence; if you don’t have anything to say, why bother saying anything?  Furthermore, if you don’t have anything to say, why draw it out as much as you do on New View?  Another pop record in the vein of Personal Record might have made the lack of theme in the songs more palatable; as it stands, it makes New View completely forgettable.

Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…

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Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down…

Anyone who’s been watching Kurt Vile explore the experience of a man and his guitar for a while now can be forgiven for thinking, upon a listening of “Pretty Pimpin'”, “Oh, he’s found a beat, good for him.”  Vile’s stock-in-trade has been hazy dissipation for some time now, through his solo debut Smoke Ring For My Halo and into his excessively sprawling, hazy-to-the-point-of-incoherence sophomore follow up Wakin On A Pretty Daze.  On b’lieve i’m goin down… Vile snaps back into focus, like coming out of a particularly deep stoned reverie.

This isn’t to say that he’s lost the meandering quality.  A number of songs on here – the ones that stretch out towards the seven minute mark, mainly – are strongly reminiscent of his work on the last album, where you start losing the plot around the four minute mark and you never really recover it.  “That’s Life Tho (almost hate to say)” and “Lost My Head There” are the worst offenders of this sort, but they’re balanced off by the melodic success of tracks like “I’m An Outlaw”, “Dust Bunnies”, and “Bad Omens”.  The album works on that careful balance the entire way, teetering between focused, song-oriented work and the hazy, lengthy jams he’s particularly known for.  The song-oriented tracks are a nice break from the jams, which don’t run quite as overlong as they did on Wakin On A Pretty Daze, but come close.

Ultimately Kurt Vile is at his best when he’s mining out a Crazy Horse-esque pattern with languid, stoned vocals, and that’s precisely what’s on offer here.  It can get a bit exhausting at times but there’s always something to draw you back in, especially if you wear your hair long and keep a baggie of herbal medicine in your bedside table.