There's Almost Nothing Fiery About Eleanor Friedberger's 'Rebound'
Eleanor Friedberger deserves some applause for remaining characteristic yet experimental on this full-length, but only her most diehard fans will find enough to enjoy here.
4 May 2018
Although she's perhaps better known as the co-founder of the avant-garde rock duo the Fiery Furnaces (alongside her brother, Matthew), American singer/songwriter Eleanor Friedberger has spent much of the decade establishing herself as a noteworthy solo artist. Far more accessible and traditional than her work in the Furnaces, her past LPs have nonetheless contained comparably quirky and idiosyncratic touches. While the same holds true for her latest outing, Rebound (a dreamy excursion into tales of introspection, wit, and conflict), the record is often too lackadaisical, inconsequential, and unvaried to truly make any major impression. It's like an aural dosage of Xanax: numbing—if not pleasant—as it goes but ultimately too shallow and uneventful to hold your attention and feel constructive.
As the press release states, Friedberger meant for Rebound to be "a little fizzier, a little synthier—more atmospheric, more meditative—than her previous three albums". Likewise, the fact that she recorded it mostly by herself (with help from producer Clemens Knieper) and cites acts like Stereolab, Lena Platonos, Suicide, and Yellow Magic Orchestra as influences helps explain its minimalist, somewhat charming DIY quality. As for its title, she says that it came from her experiences at Rebound, a sort of "'80s goth disco" in Greece that puts one in a state of "disorienting and exhilarating... exile", or of feeling alone. Despite some appealing melodies and retro sleekness here and there, however, much of the collection is meandering and empty, leaving little to latch onto.
Opener "My Jesus Phase" surely stands as a highlight, though, because of its off-kilter verses, confessional lyricism, and ominous, downright Lynchian electronic soundscapes. It's as seductive as it is sparse, and it does a fine job showing how well Friedberger can work within a relatively fresh style. Elsewhere, "Everything" packs neon pop allure, " Make Me a Song" is joyously bright yet also sharp and isolating (like a Beach Boys track mixed with glam rock), and "It's Hard" offers an especially peculiar vibe due mostly to how its strange lead guitar tones evoke the styles of Mike Oldfield and Robert Fripp (especially his work with Brian Eno). Of course, the vintage starry lusciousness of closer "Rule of Action", coupled with Friedberger's overlapping reflective whispers, makes it the perfect soundtrack for a romantic night stroll through a bygone era. Its ability to generate such a precisely nostalgic vibe is certainly commendable.
That said, those songs would stand out a lot more if they—like the rest of Rebound—didn't sound so similar and conveyed such faint attempts at songwriting and instrumentation. When closely analyzed, yes, there are aspects to enjoy, but even the brightest parts of the album eventually fade from your attention span and memory because they blend together almost immediately and rarely provide a significant moment. Sadly, other tracks fare even worse. For instance, "The Letter" and "Nice to Be Nowhere" are almost entirely uneventful and dull, while the tedious and amateurish vocals on "Are We Good?" nearly ruin the colorful and surprising eccentricity of its arrangement.
Friedberger deserves some applause for remaining characteristic yet experimental on this full-length, but only her most diehard fans will find enough to enjoy here. Aside from its inherent vintage charisma—which, to be honest, isn't very novel anymore because of how many love letters to '80s camp currently inflate modern pop culture—there's very little in terms of songwriting or score to be worthwhile. Both on her own and as a member of the Fiery Furnaces, Friedberger has proven to be a much more creative, striving, and memorable artist, so let's hope she rebounds from this misstep on her follow-up.