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Review: Eleanor Friedberger, ‘Personal Record’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: June 04, 2013
Label: Merge

If Eleanor Friedberger’s nostalgia-minded 2011 solo debut was “a Polaroid slide show”, it’s no stretch to call her sophomore effort, Personal Record, a very well-maintained Instagram account. Written while she toured behind its predecessor, this new collection retains her vintage indie-pop charm, while updating it with a broader array of instantly classic washes. In part, this elevated warmth and accessibility stems from a desire to capture a present-tense love of music, as opposed to Last Summer‘s decade-old snapshot of her personal adventures in New York. “I wanted the album to be extremely romantic-sounding,” she said recently, “but instead of being about romantic love, it’s more about music, and that means a lot to me.”

That musical devotion shines through here. As Friedberger moves further away from Fiery Furnaces, her revered experimental duo with brother Matthew, she’s coming more into her own as a songwriter, even as she denies having his self-confidence. Inspired by British singer-songwriters like Duncan Browne and Alan Hull, Personal Record pays glowing tribute to the golden sounds of late-’60s and early-’70s pop. While maintaining her signature dry affect, Friedberger sings with the earnest lilt of Diana Ross’ “When We Grow Up” (from Free to Be…You and Me) on the woodwind-flecked “I Am the Past,” and invokes Carole King’s husky yearning on “Echo or Encore.” Saturated with heavy reverb, burnished with ascendant horns and rollicking tambourines, highlights like “You’ll Never Know Me” also reflect careful attention to that era’s instrumental flourishes.

Recorded at DFA Records’ West Village Studios, the consistently inviting arrangements are partly the result of an easy collaboration with singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, who also writes novels under the pen name Wesley Stace. Friedberger has always been a storyteller, but these tracks are rife with the kinds of details that breathe life into fiction, like white socks on a girl roller-skating down Market Street (“When I Knew”), and characters with names like Reggie and Peter (“I’ll Never Be Happy Again”). The story lines are simple but effective: “In the back of the taxi / You turned off the TV / And read me a book on your phone,” she sings on “Stare at the Sun,” whose sun-dappled video heralds the album’s summertime release, forever associating Personal Record‘s exuberant acoustics with the blush of newly bare legs and outdoor concerts. It’s the sort of record worth writing sweet, knowing, wistful songs about.