There’s always been something mysterious and offbeat about Eleanor Friedberger. Lanky with bangs to spare, she comes off like a character in a J.D. Salinger short story — wry and knowing yet somehow unknowable.
Friedberger made her name as frontperson for The Fiery Furnaces, the band she founded with her older brother Matthew. Chicago-area natives, the prolific duo rose out of the early 2000s New York City Rock revival scene, dropping eight albums of slanted Indie Rock in seven years. Ever-incisive critic Robert Christgau described their 2003 debut, Gallowsbird’s Bark, as the “most intriguing use of roots riffs in an eclectic context nobody comprehends (including them).” The often obtuse, concept-heavy albums to follow were variations on Christgau’s original take.
The Fiery Furnaces went on “hiatus” in early 2011, after which brother and sister each released solo albums. Eleanor’s third and most recent, last year’s New View, features 11 Folk-infected Pop Rock songs, each a showcase for her restrained yet still compelling vocals and lyrical tales about relationships in different stages of gestation. Word is that Friedberger moved to upstate New York to write and record New View, and it’s not a stretch to say the change in scenery had an impact — it’s as laidback and straightforward as anything she’s put forth.
Mid-tempo toe-tappers “Open Season” and “Two Versions of Tomorrow” sound like a mix of cult folkie Vashti Bunyan and ’70s-era Joni Mitchell, as Friedberger paints evocative vignettes about seemingly personal memories. Yet the oddball nature remains — “Sweetest Girl,” with its zonked-out guitar lines and zigzagging time signatures, recalls Pavement circa Wowee Zowee, yet another sign that Friedberger can’t help but scratch her singular creative itch.