- Wed May 01 2019
- 8:00 pm
- Main Hall
- Stephen Malkmus Eleanor Friedberger
Stephen Malkmus Eleanor Friedberger
Eleanor’s new album is called Rebound. How, and why?
After something goes awry, one might ‘rebound’, and find oneself as it were back in place. This is often considered desirable, whether suggestive or not of being—once again—tied to a chair. Or something that allows more scope for recumbency. You would be lying to yourself, however, if you didn’t get back on your feet and admit the following. Rebounding most often involves being shot off the rim, batted or kicked off the scansion, over the fence round the court on the top of the building—down in the street and lost forever.
That might alsobe desirable—to be lost forever in nowheresville. Clemens Knieper co-produced Rebound. One day he woke up and chose exile, running away from Berlin, aged 16 and with no English, to live in some folkie’s (his godmother, Sibylle Baier’s) garage in the middle of nowhere. The man still lives on a hill in the middle of nowhere. (In a house where I—Eleanor’s brother—coincidentally, used to live; and where the album was recorded.) His father, is the great Jurgen Knieper, composer of the soundtrack to River’s Edge, and Wim Wenders’ movie after Wim Wenders’ movie. So: did Eleanor and Clemens make Reboundto resound like hypothetical incidental music for some body snatchers remake of indeterminate tone? Incidental music which, not incidentally, nudges the spectator to actually rootfor the crypto-communist body snatchers as they—among other things—take down the blinds and measure the picture windows for vintage iron-colored curtains. Chorus (Red Army or Roland), Delay and Reverb make up Rebound’s texture; everything is dressed to order in voluminous grey sheets. And they move so nicely in the breeze which zips lightly through Rebound’s dead rooms from out of nowhere. As Meg Tilly told us in Body Snatchers: “Where you gonna go? Where you gonna run? Where you gonna hide? Nowhere.”
Eleanor went to Greece for a while in 2017, and Greece is not nowhere. It’s a desirable locale, thought to encourage a mix of hedonism and self-possession which allows both natives and strangers to have their loukoumades and eat them too. This perceived national insouciance however has seen a protracted regimen of economic punishment imposed on the people in a moralistic manner. Made to feel a pariah, ‘never really part of Europe in the first place’, parts of Athens can seem an abandoned and drunken boat, in the way (further) Western manufacturing centers often did from the late 70’s through the 80’s. Visitors can think the young people have No Future written in their hearts.
What happens when the Drum Machines of Affliction start up? Eleanor describes chicken dances to Baltic bands. Walking empty streets with some hyena-aspected, plausibly necrophagous familiar, bunkering down at an off-brand discotheque in the Bottom of the Balkans in February, we nod our heads to “The opposite of what he thought he thought.” Don’t you? In the old days: women solo dancers imitate old men, feigning to have beards and limping with uneven steps; male cripples and blind men are allowed to sing in the women’s circle; the songs mock at marriage and praise adultery. Now that all sounds very Reboundesque.
What does the album sound like? One wants a whiz-bang tour of the tunes. So many of the numbers will hit parade on down to feature in the future for Cypriot or Cyrenaican single-from-last-century clubs. Is it 80’s night at these clubs too? I understand the question but it misses the point. An 80’s frame of reference is all well and good, but one still has to choose carefully. Listening to Modern Talking is more depressing than taking in a Birthday Party. And so therefore heavier—and so therefore more interesting. Rebound‘s lyrics are in fact often snipped from bits of modern talking: scraps scribbled, things thumbed, pecked at a keyboard personal pages, Monday morning misunderstands, jokes from yesteryear with editorial additions, have all been slotted into song. And the sounds themselves—remember the holy trinity: False Equivalence (Chorus); Belatedness (Delay); Emptiness (Reverb)—proudly propose belated international comradeship with Modern Talking 45’s, as an empty gesture of false equivalence. This is very Reboundesque.
Make Me A Song threatens to press the bouncy button on the micro organ with sermon notes on the music stand, giving us “the ear to hear” a tremulous “I could love you more” as both enticement and punishment; it shares with us the nowheresville dance floor watchwords: “Vibrate! Resonate!” The “artificial rendezvous” which one enjoys with The Letter takes place at the one minute mark, during a pre-chorus so thrillingly empty it seems as big a moor in a bit of Brontë juvenilia. Showy Early Spring has its Tall Ship of a keyboard, captain holding steady at the modulation wheel, impressive opening: but the sudden end, as the song steps on the final “It’s Mine”, is what lingers like the holy smokes trash burning it already went on about.
The last track, Rule of Action,dealing as it does with Eleanor’s protocols, is maybe the most important. It also has the second best guitar solo. Well, a person must have their protocols, especially when writing with a drunken “needle” and “pen” in “a brown paper bag” dispiriting but semi-profane illuminations. You can see how pilgrimage to sacred and not-so spots in ancient Attica as a spot of organized pessimism is all part of the program. For Eleanor as I imagine her is an impeccably Orthodox artist. She has an analytic cast of mind which tends to splinter enthusiasms. Her peers may be disgraceful deviationists, leading their followers astray, but that’s not for me to say. I can say, though, and as her brother, Nice to be Nowhereis my fave-rave. The thick synth pad, the thin synth tops, the singing at the bottom of her range—and the guitar solo! To make a long story short: it has converted me into or confirmed me as a convinced Nowhere-ist. Is it so irresponsibly Utopian of me to imagine that it might convert or confirm you too, if only you’d listen?