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First Listen: Eleanor Friedberger, 'Personal Record'

NPR icon by Stephen Thompson
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As half of the brother-sister act The Fiery Furnaces — presently on hiatus — Eleanor Friedberger indulges some of her artier and more experimental, unpredictable impulses. As a solo artist, she's the epitome of subtle, un-showy cool. Friedberger's first solo record, 2011's Last Summer, was a marvelous exercise in nostalgia; the dryly sweet musical equivalent of a 35-year-old Polaroid. On Personal Record, out June 4, her palette expands to include a wider array of themes and perspectives, while she maintains a minimalist-cool sound that's sweet, simple and timeless. Friedberger wrote Personal Record with singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, who knows a little something about smart love songs of every stripe.

As a vocalist, Friedberger's dryly flat affect has a slight tremble to it, with appealing plainspokenness to match arrangements like the one in "When I Knew," in which even the handclaps are muted. There's a lot of air in the sweet ballad "Echo or Encore" and elsewhere; she keeps enough spareness in these songs that when she switches up the formula — as in the lush choruses of "She's a Mirror," the bouncy strum of "Stare at the Sun" or the flashes of distortion in "Tomorrow Tomorrow" — the joys and surprises hit that much harder.

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