Eleanor Friedberger's two solo albums are quite a departure from her work with her brother in the duo Fiery Furnaces. Where Fiery Furnaces seemed off-kilter and often inaccessible (an early album featured spoken-word ramblings by the pair's grandmother), Eleanor's solo albums highlight her understated pop sensibilities.
Her latest, "Personal Record", was written with folk singer John Wesley Harding, and despite the album's title, there's nothing unusually personal about Friedberger's songs or lyrics here. Instead, it's a collection of lighthearted indie-pop songs, accented with charming piano lines ("Echo or Encore") and flirtatious flute melodies ("I Am the Past").
The album's standout track "She's a Mirror," features the rapid-fire lyrics that made Fiery Furnaces so distinctive, but they're wrapped in such a bouncy singalong melody that the song is instantly catchy. Elsewhere, even when Friedberger is lyrically morose, her songs are delivered so sweetly that she doesn't sound mopey at all.
Friedberger's songs work best when they're up-tempo. The slow, smoldering "Other Boys" loses momentum, and the sparse opening two minutes of the album-closing "Singing Time" seem incongruous with the track's catchy, lush bridge. But even those moments are far more accessible than her earlier work, leaving "Personal Record" as a solid step in her post-Furnaces career.
-- Catherine P. Lewis