Much like a run-of-the-mill Fiery Furnaces record, Napoleonette is childlike, musically scattered, frivolous, and likable in the context of having to use the word "despite."

Napoleonette is the starting point in a series of six records, the Solos collection, of which a new record by Friedberger ships every two months in 2011, each containing the work of only one instrument. And it's a bold attempt with admirable aspirations. It's not the complete concept that his first solo efforts were, 2006's Winter Women and Holy Ghost Language School, nor as poppy, if Friedberger's style can be thought of in alignment with "pop." But it is exactly to be expected of a piano record by Matthew Friedberger—whimsical, with oddly placed, occasionally dissonant moments, and intensely told stories that are not quite sung. In other words, a Fiery Furnaces record that happens to not feature his sister Eleanor.

To be appreciated are his lyrics, never unnecessarily bold or racy, consistently G-rated and never of shock value, and perhaps this goes along with the childlike quality of his songwriting, both in terms of music and words. Were R. Kelly pleading, “have mercy on me, goddess,” it’d bear nowhere near the innocence of Friedberger’s harsh and oblivious enunciation. Only he can pull off his songs as he does. His piano method is choppy but intentional, to be sure, and complements him well. The keys crash—no, CRASH—and plink, and linger on a single note, and then beautifully transform with a quick speed.

And strangely, he sings much like his sister, a speak-sing method that seems a bit off-key more often than not, as though his stories are being made up on the spot. But while his style is a less forced, more approachable version of Eleanor's, it's the strength of her voice that's missing from these songs and keeps them sounding sort of timid and incomplete. Friedberger is versatile and has output to last him for several lifetimes, but he’s also proof that creativity and inspiration can lead to indulgence for indulgence’s sake. And yet, you want to root for him—but only in the context of having to use the word “despite.” [Thrill Jockey]

-China Bialos


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