Frenchkiss Records, 2018
Eleanor Friedberger’s new record Rebound is not so much a departure from the sound of her band the Fiery Furnaces as it is a moderation of it: a delimiting and soft-focusing that one might be tempted to call maturation—for better or worse, depending on how you feel about maturity.
The Furnaces were one of the smartest hybrid-synth-y duos in what will be remembered as the decade of hybrid-synth-y duos, the aughts. Their aesthetic was/is a puzzling combination of wicked candor on one hand and a gaming experimentalism on the other; their catalogue is studded with “OMG, did she just say that?” moments and erudite obscurity. The audacious sound palette, rich in sonic absurdity, found its moorings in a subtle pre-rock sense of pop—not the stylized, Weimar pop of the Dresden Dolls, but something sublimated and smeared; a modernist strategy of subverted classicism, as opposed to the Dolls’ postmodern play.
On Rebound, the polarity of difficulty and generosity still obtains, but in a narrower range. Compare the oblique opener “My Jesus Phase” and its modernist fragmentation with any number of simple, artful lyrics that seem to be about marital bliss (“In Between Stars,” “Nice to Be Nowhere.”) Wheezy and wan synths buoy Accord resident Friedberger’s somewhat-less-than-diva vocal instrument.
Several songs brush shoulders with ’80s pop like a pharmaceutically leveled HAIM. The best songs boast a robust melodic dimension that can evoke Tin Pan Alley without ever committing retro and that can summon a surprising harmonic move without ever going Julliard. That Friedberger sweet spot just keeps giving and giving. Frenchkissrecords.com.