Pilgrim’s Playlist — Eleanor Friedberger, Tortoise, David Bowie

Recommended New Albums

Eleanor Friedberger – New View

For those who like their Rock on the gentler, more thoughtful side, this one’s for you. Eleanor Friedberger is a rare singer-songwriter who’s not afraid to take chances with unusual chord changes or melodic shifts or song structures. It seems as if she’s distilled the kinetic clutter of her previous band The Fiery Furnaces into a smoother glass of wine, yet still full of body and taste on this, her third solo album.

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The toughest task for any singer-songwriter is to not get repetitive lyrically or musically, and Friedberger scores on this count. The first-world problems of modern day love are treated sometimes cynically (“I’m opening a tree museum/That’s my new hobby”), and sometimes earnestly (“Your beauty stands alone/Amongst all known things”), but it always rings genuine and true.

The music meanders from traditional singer-songwriter acoustics through soulful shuffles to moments where you’re suddenly surprised at all the power going on. And like all the great Rock songwriters, Friedberger is capable of building well-crafted musical sections between verses, with some sweet playing from guitarist Malcolm Perkins, keeping things interesting and original.

Sometimes I suppose this originality gets a little too cute, but the good news is that it’s a quirky cute, as opposed to the saccharine, smarmy variety. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. This is a really good album.


Tortoise – The Catastrophist

Now, for those who like their Rock on the challenging side off the beaten track, the new album from Tortoise, their seventh, is for you. I’m kind of amazed that Tortoise is still generally classified as an indie Rock band, although you will often see the descriptor “experimental rock” or my favorite oxymoron, “post-rock”.

Tortoise makes mostly instrumental music in a blend of prog, krautrock, jazz and ambient electronica styles that is all their own. I would call it jazz-rock, except that the instrumentation is pretty standard drums-bass-keyboard, with guitars always prominent.

The Catastrophist will serve as a useful place to jump in and see what these guys are all about, because it provides a nice array of different sonic landscapes. You’ve got the beautiful airy chill of “Ox Duke”, the chunky power of “Shake Hands With Danger”, and the slinky electro-funk of “Hot Coffee”. There’s even a really beautiful soulful ballad “Yonder Blue”, with typically understated vocals from Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley.

Hardcore Tortoise fans may find this album to be on the timid side, but the flip side is that it may be the band’s most accessible album to date. It’s the hippest dinner party music around these days.


Must-Add Track

David Bowie – Your Turn To Drive (2001)

I can’t help it, I’m still immersing myself in Bowie’s catalogue these days. It’s a way of coping with the grief, but I keep discovering amazing things that continue to elevate his absolute greatness as an artist in my eyes. This track was supposed to be released on an album called Toy, on which Bowie re-did some old numbers and added three new ones.

Well the experimental project got shelved, and the three new songs floated away into the ether, and of course onto the internet. This is one of them, a brilliant two-chord meditation about the creative process, a topic common to so many Bowie songs (“Your turn to drive/ You’re making my songs/ You’re making my heart”).

The musicianship is absolutely exquisite, from the funk guitar to the cascading piano bit to the Miles-esque trumpet solo to the unbelievable backing vocals. It is uplifting, it is mesmerizing, and it is utterly brilliant.





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