Last Summer proved Eleanor Friedberger could more than carry a record outside of the context of the Fiery Furnaces, and its follow-up, Personal Record, boasts a confidence that underscores and heightens the tried-and-true feeling of its songs. As with her work with her brother Matthew Friedberger, a strong '70s vibe informs her solo albums, but where the musical and lyrical allusions to classic rock were just a part of the Furnaces' wild excursions, they make up the backbone of Personal Record's sound. Overflowing with slide guitars, electric pianos, and more flute solos than have been heard in decades, the album's warmth has a traditional bent, but it's far from stodgy. In fact, Friedberger's pop instincts may be honed even more finely here than they were on Last Summer, particularly on "She's a Mirror," which borrows the bouncy beat of Hall & Oates' "Maneater," and "Stare at the Sun," which brings some razor-sharp hooks to its tale of suburban exile. Storytelling is another strength she develops further on Personal Record; in interviews around the time of its release, Friedberger mentioned that despite the album's title, these songs were more inspired by her relationship with music as opposed to people. Of course, it could be argued that a musician's relationship with music might be among her most personal, but Friedberger's lyrics are emotional even if they're not snatched from her diary. On the bossa nova-tinged "Echo or Encore," she's equally affectionate and mysterious, balancing aloofness and intimacy with alluring vocals and slightly cryptic words, while "I Am the Past" is a sympathetic, creative depiction of how we relate to who we were before. As on the Fiery Furnaces' albums and Last Summer, Friedberger makes the quietest songs on Personal Record sound like adventures that she's inviting listeners to join; she even manages to bring a sense of wonder to everyday things like coupons and diets on "My Own World." As engaging as these songs ultimately are, Personal Record is sometimes so unassuming that it takes a few listens for its charms to fully reveal themselves. Even if the album is more comforting than exciting, it's still an enjoyable portrait of Friedberger's artistry: warm, genuine, and a little mischievous.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares