As half of the fanciful brother-sister duo Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor Friedberger was involved in some of the 2000s’ most ornate indie-rock experiments: “Rehearsing My Choir,” the concept album based on their grandmother’s life; the sparse yet epochal “Blueberry Boat”; the siblings-covering-each-other record “Take Me Round Again.” But on her third solo album since the Furnaces embarked on an extended break, Friedberger proves herself a master of the singer-songwriter confessional, with sun-dappled tracks that have the easiness of loose-limbed country-rock without being afraid to offer a peek at the beating heart lurking underneath.
Friedberger and the Fiery Furnaces were synonymous with Brooklyn’s brand of early-21st-century hipness, but before recording “New View” she relocated to New York’s small-town-studded Hudson Valley. “New View” — which was recorded at a studio located in a barn on an old fruit farm — has a charming analog feel about it, with Friedberger’s alto taking center stage. The appeal of her voice comes not just from the way it conveys plainspokenness, but also for the way it catches on certain emotional points in her songs. Take the friendship branch “Sweetest Girl,” directed at a friend who’s drowning in heartbreak; when Friedberger sings “Stop crying so I won’t start,” her voice catches on the word “crying” in such a way that it almost sounds like she’s holding back a sob.
Those subtle hints at emotional undercurrents enhance the potency of Friedberger’s lyrics. On the gently assertive “Because I Asked You” she compares unsatisfying relationships to “treat[ing] me like a tennis pro”; the glittering “He Didn’t Mention His Mother” evokes regret and pain without self-pity. Friedberger’s voice is surrounded by top-notch playing from her New York-based backing band Icewater; the scratchy, dueling guitar parts on “Open Season” and the ferocious synth arpeggios on “Cathy With the Curly Hair” serve as a counterpoint to Friedberger’s cool vocals, and round out an album that simmers with feeling and top-notch playing.
ESSENTIAL “Because I Asked You”Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.