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Eleanor Friedberger breaks down her new album, Rebound, Track by Track: Stream

on May 03, 2018, 1:07pm

Our new music feature Track by Track finds artists revealing the origins behind each track on their latest album. 


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This Friday, May 4th, Eleanor Friedberger will celebrate the release of her fourth solo album, Rebound. Due out through Frenchkiss Records, the follow-up to 2016’s New View takes its name from a club found in Greece. Described as “a time warp; kind of an ’80s goth disco where everyone does the chicken dance,” it was there in that club that the former Fiery Furnaces indie rocker had a “revelation in terms of finding the sound and energy for my fourth album.”

As a result, much of the live instrumentation of her Friedberger’s past records was shelved in favor of programmed drums and synths. Rebound, which was recorded with the assistance of producer Celemns Knieper, boasts “an homage to ’80s dark goth pop” (“In Between Stars”), snappy and hooky numbers (“Everything”, “Make Me A Song”), and nostalgic dream pop ballads (“My Jesus Phase”).

Ahead of the official release date, Consequence of Sound is premiering the album in full. Take a listen:

For a more detailed look into Rebound, Friedberger herself has offered to break down each and every track. You can listen to her descriptions via the Consequence of Sound podcast up above or read what she had to say about each song below.

“My Jesus Phase”:
I had a lot of self-doubt about the album in general because I’d done so much on my own, as opposed to the previous two solo albums where I’d collaborated with people I’d been working with. For this album, I made all these demos first by myself and didn’t share them with anybody for months, so I felt a little bit uneasy about it. Even when it came time to settling on song titles themselves, there were a few songs that I really struggled with, which is something that I’d never dealt with before. Usually I know what the song title will be even before I finish writing. I actually recruited ten or so friends, and sent them a list of potential song titles without accompanying songs, and just asked them what they thought about those options as titles. “My Jesus Phase” was originally going to be called “Galaxy Bar”, which is a bar in Athens; there were a few bars in Athens that really made an impact on me when I spent time there last year, and that was one of them. But then I worried it would be too generic and people wouldn’t know what it was. Everyone overwhelmingly chose “My Jesus Phase”, though.

That phrase comes from a conversation where I was relaying meeting someone who had told me about how he loved Jesus, and said “Jesus is my best friend.” I was telling my friend the story and how I was really taken aback by it, and she didn’t even bat an eyelash, and said, “Oh, I had my Jesus phase last year, too.”

I wanted it to be a very repetitive song; the working title was something like “Best Circus”, because I’d written it on the Casio keyboard using a repeating arpeggio that sounded very circus-y, but then I completely fucked it up by turning things backward. In the end, Clemens Knieper and I really changed the arrangement to be very minimal. His bass line at the beginning of the song changed everything for me, and I just said, “That’s the way the whole album has to sound.” You can hear my breath and the first line, and it’s cool to start with a line like, “Let me forget the words.” I think it’s a good first line. It’s incredibly moody. When we finished the album, that was the song that moved me the most, so I wanted to move that up to the front.

“The Letter”:
“The Letter” was always supposed to be together with “My Jesus Phase”. I was hoping there would be more transitions like that throughout this album, but it didn’t end up that way. The song is taken from a letter that someone sent me. Miscommunication is definitely a big part of that, but I was so lucky to get something like that that I was able to get some really specific, evocative language from someone else and change it around. It’s the greatest gift as a songwriter for something like that to land in my mailbox. That’s why it feels so real.

I’m very much interested in giving concrete details; that’s how I learned to write when I was 15 or something. I remember being in a class in high school and the teacher singling me out for something that I wrote, praising it for having very direct, simple sentences with the right kinds of details. I’ve been writing like that ever since.

Miscommunication became a common theme of the album. I didn’t go into it knowing that. I don’t talk to many other musicians about this, but sometimes you work on something, and then you step away after finishing it and you have to do all of this talking about it, and you become a PhD student defending your dissertation. You come up with these ideas after the fact and it’s always more interesting.

I spent a lot of time on these lyrics. I was forced to spend more time than normal because I wrote these songs so differently. Most of the songs I had written the melodies and then wrote the lyrics afterwards, which is something I don’t usually do. It was difficult, and forced me to be more deliberate than I had been before.

Eleanor Friedberger - Rebound

“Everything”:
The lines about someone with a boyfriend in Greece and a girlfriend in Italy is about a friend of mine in Athens. She’s an actress, and was really struggling with that situation. She wanted to have kids, but she wanted to have this really radical life being in an experimental theater group, and also imagined doing something more mainstream like being in movies. I really wanted to write a pop song about a really complicated subject, like wanting to have it all, and how that’s ridiculous—and still something that we struggle with. That’s kind of a lame way of saying it, but it came out of a conversation that I’d had with someone who said, “If you want to be in a relationship, you have to compromise,” and me thinking and saying, “Fuck you, I’m not going to compromise.” And then having to deal with that. Women will relate to that, I hope.

Clemens and I worked on the song for quite awhile, but then we lost it, which is any musician’s worst nightmare. We had to start over from scratch. Who knows what that other version would have been like, but I’m going to say this version was better. We tried really hard to make this as tight and catchy as possible, while at the same time while it has this kind of very bizarre lyric that is also kind of annoying. It’s just really punching you in the face.

This song was one of the first ones we tackled in recording, because I had written it as a straight-up guitar rock song. I had a demo of it in that way, but I wanted it to sound much more interesting. At first I thought I wanted to make a record where I’m playing guitar really loud, and the whole thing was going to be really aggressive, a live recording full of feedback and screaming—my version of Sonic Youth, which is preposterous. I’m just not capable of that.

I wrote some rock demos in the early fall of 2016, and then in December of 2016 I bought this Casio keyboard and just started writing a bunch of stuff on it. And then I went to Greece in January, and when I came back I started writing the lyrics and turning all that stuff I’d written on the keyboard into songs. I abandoned the idea of having a brash, punky guitar album because, in part, in Greece, rock music isn’t really the thing. I guess is how I would describe the scene as much more electronic.

“In Between Stars”:
Initially, I wrote this song as a piano ballad. I played a bunch of these songs for my friend Bradford Cox from Deerhunter, because at first I thought I might work with him on the album. When he finally listened to all the demos, he was like, “‘In Between Stars’ doesn’t need to go anywhere. You don’t need to play it.” There were a few songs where he gave it a, “We don’t need to hear this in the world,” kind of response, and that was one. He was like, “This is not interesting at all.” But… I didn’t listen to him. [Laughs] Instead, I just completely changed the arrangement.

A friend of mine and sometime roommate is also half-Greek, and she bought me this Greek mythology book for Christmas that she had been reading with her son. I’ve been feeling a larger, mythic connection to Greece for a long time, since my early twenties, and my recent trip just made it even deeper. There’s this place in the southern mainland of Greece I would just go that’s incredibly special. It sounds really melodramatic, but I could swim out and I’d be happy to just die swimming out. If that was how I went, that’d be totally fine. I’ve never felt that way about another place.

Connecting the mythic elements of the lyrics to the synth-heavy, grander change in the music is a really nice way to think of it, but I didn’t think of that at the time. I’ve never really listened to that sort of music, ‘80s synth stuff. I mean, I know it exists and I’ve heard it a lot in my life, but it’s just not something I ever put on. If I want something kind of pretty in the pop world, I would listen to pretty acoustic guitar music or something first.

“Make Me A Song”:
This one is definitely connected to “In Between Stars”. I started “Make Me A Song” a year or so before the rest, and felt confident about the chorus and the tune. But I wanted it to be a really long song and have a lot of verses. After that experience with the guy who loved Jesus, he sent me this link to a sermon that was about making religious music. I found myself getting really sucked into it. I don’t want to alienate anybody, I’m not a religious person, but it’s a funny thing to be inspired by.

It’s embarrassing to say, but I wanted to write a song about something really important. I find that embarrassing; I’m trying hard to not come off like a pretentious asshole, which I don’t think I would often be accused of. Sometimes I think I should take myself a little bit more seriously. But in light of the world today, I really did want to write a song that everyone could get behind. Music brings people together, and that’s undeniable.

Normally I just write to amuse myself, and then I hope that other people like it too. I think I’ve got good taste. [Laughs] But once in awhile, I want to try to write something that could mean something to more people very explicitly. Both “Everything” and “Make Me A Song” I think would fall into that category.

“Nice To Be Nowhere”:
I wrote this song on the keyboard and it was so simple. In the past I maybe wouldn’t have allowed myself to do that. It’s just kind of long, goes nowhere, and has this nice feeling. I would’ve denied myself that in the past, but I was like, “OK, this is what I’m going to try to do: I’m just gonna be very slow and not much is going to happen and it’s not going to be about anything too specific.” The title is something that someone had said to me once, and I wrote it down and had been holding onto it for four or five years. I was happy to finally use it.

“It’s Hard”:
This is the opposite type of song to “Nice To Be Nowhere”. I wanted to write a song about this club in Athens called Rebound. “In Between Stars” is a song you might hear at Rebound, but this song is about that place. This is the last song that I wrote, and I’d already been thinking and talking about like the sound of the record with Clemens and other people about the music for TV shows Stranger Things, Twin Peaks, and that episode of Black Mirror with the two lesibans in the nightclub. I was just thinking about writing a song for a fake TV show or something, but then there are specific lines about the nightclub.

I was listening to this album by Huw Evans, who goes by the name of H. Hawkline. He used to play with Cate Le Bon, and he has a song where he says, “Please don’t lose my number,” which I thought was such a great line. It just really stuck with me because now it’s impossible to lose someone’s phone number. That’s why I wrote that line about the ripped up bill in the washer; remember when you used to write someone’s number on a bill and put it in your jeans pocket, and then you’d wash the jeans and the piece of paper is all fucked up? That just doesn’t happen anymore. But anyway, that was the idea of the song and it’s one of my favorite recordings actually on the album. I really love the way that turned out.

The funny thing about Rebound is that it’s so dark that you can barely even see anyone. I did the dance that everyone was doing, and I stepped on someone’s foot and got a really nasty glare, but I only really interacted with the people who I went with. It wasn’t a very friendly place.

“Are We Good?”:
This song mentions ZZ Top. I lived in Texas for awhile, where people take them seriously. Someone said that to me: “I’ll go to ZZ Top and lose my mind.”

One of the books I was reading last year while I was writing this stuff was a biography of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. I’m not a big fan of her poetry or anything, but this book was incredible. It’s this monster of a book that’s based completely on her letters and other people’s letters. I was just struck by all the letter writing; it’s easy to forget that we don’t do that anymore. I’m simplifying this but, I thought, “God, in the future, we’re only going to have our text messages and all this kind of stuff.” So, I based this song completely on text messages between myself and other people, which was a fun exercise.

I went through the messages of three people I’d had relationships with, and then transcribed them—which is kind of a weird thing to do. Anyone reading this is never going to send me a text message again. But it was interesting for the song and I think it works really well. To be fair, most of the text messages I used for the song are ones that I wrote. I don’t think I was betraying too much there. It was interesting to see what I would write to somebody else; most of it was written when I was on tour, so it was funny to see what I thought was interesting or a funny thing to say to somebody.

“Showy Early Spring”:
“Showy Early Spring” is a really intimate song. Hopefully there are some very specific details that are evocative, but then also I was just trying to write something that was pretty and sad. I had a few lines, so I just sat down and wrote it. And I cried a little bit, [Laughs] which doesn’t happen too much, but that I’m glad that I did that and that’s how it felt. I don’t want to say too much about meaning because I think it’s boring, but it was inspired by a feeling of, “Is this it for me?”

It’s also very much a song for someone who is a very good friend of mine, and that person will probably never really know that that’s what it is. I don’t have any problem with confrontation or being honest or any of that kind of stuff in my personal life. I’m totally good at, I think—or maybe I’m full of shit. But I’m really fine with this person not knowing it’s for them. That’s not the point.

“Rule of Action”:
The ending of this song was really hard to get right. “Rule of Action” is almost entirely the demo, including the vocals. It was a demo that I made with the Casio keyboard, and then we added real drums, cymbals, and bass on top of that. Then I resang some parts, but didn’t want to use a nice vocal mic. We wanted to recreate that sort of whispering sound, and there was just a lot of nonsense in getting the volume right on that last line—which I’m still not sure is right.

To me, the song is about writing songs as a way to deal with things. Do you do that, or do you stop yourself? Am I going to squash my feelings or am I going to put it into this song? Am I going to be heard? Is the person that those feelings are about going to hear this song?

And then with that line fading off almost without an end, and then there’s the, the sort of instrumental piece at the very end. I mean, it seems like it’s, it’s ongoing almost and it has that same sort of. I feel like you could loop it back to that same tone at the beginning and it really completes a full circle.

With the song fading off so softly in the vocals and the instrumental section, a couple of people have said to me that it makes the album work well repeating it back to the start, which was the idea. It feels like a very short album, but it’s not that short; and because of the first and last songs feeling connected, it does kind of make it feel even shorter in a way, which I like.

As we get ready to play this stuff live, I’ve started thinking more about how the songs connect, trying to come up with the live set and how they sound together and what they mean next to each other—and in relation to older songs too. The album feels more like a piece, like there’s a certain fabric to it that I would say that my other two records don’t have.

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