Eleanor Friedberger has a sneaky sort of uniqueness to her sound. Listen casually and you might miss it—nothing sounds obviously revolutionary, she doesn’t whoop or yelp, she doesn’t deconstruct or make sound collages or mold digital files out of rhythm and electronics. She writes and sings relatively normal-sounding songs. And yet damned if she hasn’t arrived at something truly her own, even as she refuses to dumbfound us with quirkiness (which is, alas, just about the only way to get the blogosphere’s undivided attention).
And it’s actually kind of odd that her music isn’t stranger, given the pre-eminent idiosyncrasy of many of the songs she recorded as part of The Fiery Furnaces. But as a solo artist, Friedberger has slipped off the Furnaces’ strangeness like a worn-out layer of skin. Her voice hasn’t really changed, but the setting displays it in newly attractive ways, her edgy mezzo showing off a dusky, Carly Simon-esque roundness one might not have sensed back in Blueberry Boat days. “Stare at the Sun” is a brisk lyric-centric affair—Friedberger’s sound is hurried and wordy, even when the music slows down—propelled by a crisply-strummed guitar and a three-part chorus that gradually takes the song over from its verses. To my ears, the song’s central moment comes in the middle chorus section, on the line “I’ve been in exile so long,” and what makes the moment is how Friedberger shifts the momentum to emphasize the word “so,” breaking the song’s unrelenting forward motion, and giving us something inexplicably memorable in the process.
Friedberger recorded with her brother Matthew as The Fiery Furnaces from 2003 through 2009; the band is currently on hiatus. She released her first solo album in 2011; Fingertips featured the excellent “My Mistakes” from that album, as some may recall. “Stare at the Sun” is from her forthcoming album, Personal Record, due out in June on Merge Records. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.