Eleanor Friedberger’s new record was heralded by a bewildering (if somewhat enamouring) press kit. It’s quite a piece of work: amongst other things, there are references to Baltic discos, ’80s Euro-dance living tans Modern Talking and cooler names like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Suicide.
Thankfully, the album itself is a much more straightforward proposition, full of smooth, chiming new wave guitars playing out against slightly spacey synth backdrops and programmed percussion. There’s nothing heavier here than you’d find on something on 80s pop radio on a Sunday night – certainly nothing approaching Alan Vega’s deranged yowl. It’s rich, textural music that seeks to soothe rather than incite.
The groovy, chiming Everything is immediately reminiscent of Tango in the Night-era Fleetwood Mac – right down to the treble-heavy cooing background vocals. It’s a remarkable track, where time seems to become an abstract concept; the anachronistic flavour is comforting and familiar. In Between Stars continues in pretty much the same vein – Buckingham-esque guitars unroll languorously rather than rip out of the speakers, and with vocal cadences informed by Christine McVie‘s honeyed delivery.
Intriguing rhythmic hisses and clicks are scattered across It’s Hard, and the woozy melodicism of Are We Good? sounds like it’s influenced by the new wave experiments of the latest St Vincent record, with something approaching the feel of Annie’s raised-brow cool-pop. The final track – a waltz, no less – throws us into a dimension where Stereolab and Mercury Rev are played on morning radio – it’s that sleepy, that muted.
The consistency and accessibility of the music here makes it hard to criticise, but every track is so inoffensive (so certainly not that influenced by Modern Talking) that nothing really sticks in the way Friedberger’s previous songs have.
There’s a lot to be said for ‘maturity’ in pop music, but at times this feels completely aimless, leaving you asking who exactly this album is for – something that appeared obvious in all her previous work. At best, it sounds like an honest re-fashioning of comfortable old sounds. At worst, it sounds like a forgotten Christine McVie solo album. It also raises a vital question: does anybody listen to new sophisti-pop these days?