When I Knew

I never got into The Fiery Furnaces (though lord knows I tried with Blueberry Boat)–siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger seemed like some warped academic’s idea of an indie rock duo, deflating any discernible hooks with a soupçon of meandering song lengths, unwieldy tempo shifts and bursts of cacophony. It almost comes as a relief, then, that Eleanor’s solo albums forgo all this foofaraw for classically elegant melodic pop.

I first heard last year’s Personal Record too late in the year for it to make my top fifteen; now it would likely sneak in. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking on it, but Friedberger’s a good lyricist and more often than not she hits that feminine-but-tough, cool and poised sweet spot which the likes of Aimee Mann and Liz Phair regularly did in the ’90s. “When I Knew” is the standout, not only for being catchy as hell and immensely likable but also for its unique gender-fluidity–is Friedberger singing from a man’s perspective, or is it just a lesbian love song? And in the end, who cares when the words and their wit command your attention so well? Particularly when she puckishly rhymes Halloween with the title of a Dexy Midnight Runners song…