(Frenchkiss Records, out Fri 4 May 2018)
This fourth album from the Illinois-born singer flatters to deceive. It drops suddenly into existence with My Jesus Phase, a sombre meditation of opaque meaning that channels the over-thinking post-Summer Of Love self-analysis of 70s singer-songwriters. Heavy-laden and world-weary, it’s unorthodox as an opener and sets the album off on an intriguing course. What follows, however, is an altogether more conventional beast.
For the next half-dozen songs at least, Rebound turns out fairly middle of the road. The Letter is one for pouring the digestifs to at an 80s dinner party if you can’t find the Sade, Everything is everything you didn’t like about the latest Arcade Fire album, and In Between Stars is Leonard Cohen’s casio keyboard phase reinterpreted by Air. Single Make Me A Song skips along poppily as Friedberger offers New Age-y exhortations to “make me a song / make me a sound / vibrate, resonate”. Nice To Be Nowhere takes the keyboard sound of Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called To Say I Love You, and slows it to a crawl for a lazy day love song, while It’s Hard does the same to Andrew Gold’s Never Let Her Slip Away. It could all feel very mainstream if it weren’t for Friedberger’s voice – a low, lifeless deadpan – providing an important, enigmatic counterweight.
Are We Good? is where pace and interest picks up again, her vocal melody working against a haphazardly arpeggiating synth, while she offers seemingly disconnected vignettes: “I proposed to a woman for a man last night / She said yes, they cried and we kissed” or “I played croquet, it was croquet / Mowed the lawn and killed seven snakes / Dirty clothes, dirty face, no bra / Sloppy, clumsy and raw”. It asks all sorts of questions, while some of its predecessors have been all too straightforward. Showy Early Spring, also provides cryptic lyrics to prick the ears – “Fuel service, chainsaw sharpening / Four graves next to the sunroom” – before the album plays out with end-of-the-pier waltz, Rule Of Action.
There’s certainly plenty in Rebound to keep returning to, but Friedberger’s lyrics hint at depths the music doesn’t always match, and tackling it in a one-r, it can feel like so many variations on an MOR theme.