The sweet, warm June rain of Eleanor Friedberger’s debut Last Summer in 2011 represented a leap forward from the sometimes cutesy psych of her sibling, seedling band Fiery Furnaces. Quirkier than Miranda July, as heartfelt as punk-rock and boasting a clutch of songs that tightly focused on one hipster summer in NYC, it was a piece of pop finery only matched by the likes of Ted Leo or Elvis Costello at their most accessible.
This follow-up, the wonderfully titled Personal Record, deals again with oddball relationships and accounts of strangely synchronized moments, but this time without the specific focus of a period of time and place, instead explaining interpersonal relations through an obsession with music and performance – both hers and the other characters involved in these cryptic snapshots of love.
Friedberger’s voice, over smooth, late Seventies studio backing for the most part, occasionally augmented by scratching guitar, is a grinning, warming delight. The blatant romance of opener ‘I Don’t Want To Bother You’ with its telling lines "I’d rather be two inches from your face " and "I want to be scared, I want to be haunted" sets the tone for a bittersweet record of delicate, detailed story-songs that never skimp on honesty or generosity of spirit.
The pacey teen love of ‘When I Knew’, referencing Soft Machine and Dexys ("She was wearing a pair of overalls so I sang Come On Eileen/I was being slightly mean"), kissing off with the sly, sexy "I couldn’t get her out of my head/so I got her out of hers instead" ties first love to first bands, sexual adoration to musical appreciation, friendship to taste – it’s wonderful and wonderfully perceptive.
The cabaret-lite of ‘Echo Or Encore’ may be a little too passive musically but it’s Cohen-like melody structure and tale of lust for a musician against the odds (and potential indifference) lend it an addictive quality that’s undeniable.
‘My Own World’, a cousin to the Manics’ ‘My Little Empire’, lands on a wave of guitar hum and, yes, jazz flute, while Friedberger is "Checking the scores, cutting out coupons" and demanding "Don’t interrupt me, girl". It’s a neat appreciation of normalcy crafted in her usual whipsmart lyrical style.
There are moments where your interest may dip, as on ‘Tomorrow, Tomorrow’ where, despite Friedberger’s boundless enthusiasm for an affair that seems to consist of mostly kissing and going to galleries, we also get the (hopefully intentionally) hilarious line "today was textbook", a series of jarring chord changes and a screeching keyboard that flies in from nowhere, uninvited and certainly unwanted.
Then there’s ‘Other Boys’ which begins with a greatness of pop intent but chooses to limp along well after it’s welcome has been outstayed.
Yet Friedberger’s love of music referencing, her endless optimism and joy taken in minutiae will carry you safely through any bumps.; There’s the underwater gorgeousness of ‘Singing Time’, the vampish ‘She’s A Mirror’ to contend with – both self-aware gems that take misery and cynicism and fucks them off with a glad wave of the conducting hand.
The best thing here, the most perfect, most personal and therefore of course the most relatable, the most entirely understandable to anyone who’s ever experienced lust/loss/whatever is the chiming ‘I’ll Never Be Happy Again’, a slow sway of sadness and regret that simply laments, by way of an Altman-character filled tale of chance love and random meeting, the fact that once you’ve experienced that first rush of bliss any other feeling is incomparable. It’s a sideways, slanted look at the experience of true heart-stopping love that is made all the better by a stoned surf guitar refrain that is, if such a phrase is allowed, for the ages. It’s absolutely fucking wonderful and you’ll need to drink wine and kiss everyone you know after hearing it.
Which kinda speaks for the record. It’s not an album with the undisputable, instantly anthemic (in your bedroom at least) quality of her debut but that’s always the case with a second record, and sure, very occasionally it has the feeling of a glass of lime cordial – potentially refreshing, cool, sharp, delicious, bittersweet – that’s had a little too much water added, sometimes diluting the wonder, but these genuinely are small asides when looking at the bigger picture – another summer album of frisky, playful, intelligent, tune-filled wonder from a great songwriter born to put a massive slobbering smile on yer face.
7Matthew Slaughter's Score