Eleanor Friedberger: Personal Record (Merge) 

Eleanor Friedberger's solo debut, Last Summer, came out two summers ago. It was a ruminative 90 minutes of pop songwriting filtered through a lens of prog-funk that took a few listens to warm up to. By comparison, Personal Record sounds almost like radio-pop. It's downright jaunty, as if Friedberger were scoring her own dance-party episode of Sesame Street.

What's most exciting about Personal Record is how effortlessly it manages to merge the sounds of early-1960s Brill Building pop with the progressive rock of the 1969-1976 era. "She's a Mirror" is a girl-group hit that never was, yet contains strains of Jethro Tull (especially in all the lyrical references to the "lunar eclipse" and "mounds" located out in "no man's land"). "Today was perfection, the axis of bliss/ I was calm in your arms, waiting for the kiss," Friedberger sings on "Tomorrow Tomorrow," stealing the words right out of the Shirelles' mouths. But Shirley Owens never rambled like a priestess-cum-pillhead reading aloud from her poetry journal. Friedberger's lyrical persona is still her most annoying characteristic, even when it's endearing. "She was wearing a pair of overalls/ So I sang 'Come On, Eileen,'" she tells us on "When I Knew," thereby rhyming "Eileen" with "Halloween" from a previous line. It's all a bit much. I mean, there's an oboe solo on a song called "I Am the Past."

But despite her tics, Friedberger is good company and she's made another lovely record full of excess and charm just in time for summer.

More by Sean Bottai


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