The Fiery Furnaces, indie rock’s sibling-duo answer to the noodling art songs of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy, split at the start of this decade. Since then, multi-instrumentalist, chief songwriter, and expert-level interview shit-talker Matthew Friedberger has focused on tossed-off quickies and admirably unlistenable concept records (though last year’s self-released Mr. Fried Burger, I Resume? was a minor return to form), leaving singer-guitarist Eleanor Friedberger to take the spotlight in an unlikely way: by establishing herself as a 1970s session-band-backed singer-songwriter for the 2010s. Friedberger’s husky alto voice was her old band’s not-so-secret weapon, phrasing tongue-twister lyrics into unexpected tunefulness. That natural ear for vocal melody has allowed her to mature into a gifted songwriter of observational specifics, beginning with “My Mistakes,” the lead single off her debut, Last Summer. New View, Friedberger’s third solo album, continues her streak of “they don’t make them like they use to” records, packing strummy acoustic guitars, electric pianos, organs, and her own tight, personal songwriting into something modern and refreshingly old-fashioned.
Bouncing by in 3-to-5-minute chunks filled out with keyboard runs and the odd classic rock guitar solo, New View is an unpretentious album about the ordinary, full of those rhymed descriptions of the quotidian that have become Friedberger’s stock-in-trade. (“We met up this morning, and laced up our walking shoes / First we fortified ourselves with coffee and some juice” sounds downright Paul Simon-esque when sung.) The Fiery Furnaces often went out of their way to estrange and alienate; her solo output has swung in the opposite direction, toward classic song structures, relatable and journal-specific lyrics, and familiar sounds. The musical outliers here—the prominent synth on “Cathy With The Curly Hair,” the Fleetwood Mac vibe of “Never Is A Long Time”—aren’t breaking any new ground; they’re just testing territory adjacent to the album’s traditionalist organ-guitar-drums sound. Friedberger is an artist of comfort zones, and there are moments—brief moments, mind you—when New View doesn’t sound that far removed from being a hipper, more energetic Counting Crows.
And yet Friedberger—a witty, mischievous lyricist working within the limits of convention—has too much cool poise for New View to actually sink into generic pop-rock, even if the instrumentation is the same. Recorded after she relocated from Brooklyn to a farm in upstate New York, it’s mellower than her last album, the perfectly named Personal Record; the neurotic qualities of her first two solo releases seem to have been tempered, and in their place is a tinge of bittersweet loneliness. (One can’t help but chalk that up to the difference between urban and rural life.) Her knack for writing songs that seem to just be exacting descriptions of afternoons (as in the standout “A Long Walk,” which closes New View) puts her in the top tier of present-day indie realists. But though there are flashes of drama, New View’s songs feel more homebody-comfortable than anything she’s recorded before. It’s keenly observed, totally genuine, and eminently listenable, though one can’t help but miss the choppy energy and anxious undercurrents of Personal Record. Maybe comfort-zone types work best in tight spots.