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New View, the third solo album by Eleanor Friedberger, was rehearsed in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park and recorded in upstate New York. The former is a place where characters in Warren Zevon songs get clingy with their old lady while toughing out heroin withdrawal; the latter is where Bob Dylan got clingy with Robbie Robertson after flying off his motorcycle and revisiting the highway with his face. Fittingly, there's a fair amount of recovery in the songs of New View (though you won't find much in the way of smack or motorcycles). "Today I'm frozen but tomorrow I'll write about you," Friedberger sings, and much of the album seems set in that post-traumatic tomorrow, when stuff's calmed down, the figurative road rash has healed, the metaphorical junkie sweating up your mattress has finally packed his bags.
Counting the albums she made with her brother Matthew as the Fiery Furnaces, this is Friedberger's twelfth full-length. I've been listening since the beginning, and to me New View seems like just that -- a vista that's opened up when I thought I'd seen everything Friedberger had to offer. (Then again, I believed her last album Personal Record was indeed her best to date, so maybe I'm just susceptible to album titles.) Before she entered the studio with New View producer Clemens Knieper, Friedberger made a playlist of reference songs. A live version of "Warm Love" by Van Morrison was on there, as was 80s-era Dylan, Neil Young at his most bummed out, a scattering of Robert Wyatt-era Soft Machine, and the odd gem by Slapp Happy, Fleetwood Mac, Funkadelic, et al. There are ghost notes of all of those influences on New View, but mostly you hear Eleanor Friedberger. She's never lacked confidence -- this is someone who once took a fractured nine-minute ballad about the international blueberry trade and put it across like it was "Thunder Road" -- but there's a new kind of confidence on this record. You can hear it on the warm, stately "Your Word," which holds a special lace for Friedberger. She says:
"It was the last song I wrote for the album. I finished the lyrics with lines taken from a dream that Jonathan Rosen had about me. I stayed at a friend's house in LA who had a bunch of later George Harrison CDs-- already a huge fan, I thought I knew it all. But I heard 'Love Comes To Everyone' and it kind of blew me away. Everything I love about Harrison-- beautiful slide guitar and vocals and vaguely spiritual lyrics-- plus a weird disco thing. That was the big influence for the sound." The songs on New View were recorded live to tape with simple instrumentation: drums, bass, Wurlitzer and 12-string acoustic guitar on almost every track, courtesy of the band Icewater (Malcolm Perkins, Jonathan Rosen, Michael Rosen, Noah Hecht), with Dorian DeAngelo contributing a handful of well-placed guitar solos. Producer Knieper (son of Jurgen Knieper, the German composer whose credits include the score to Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire) gives the album a classic sound, like something that's existed forever on a record collector's shelf, wedged in with Dylan's New Morning and John Cale's Vintage Violence. For everything new about New View, it still fits comfortably in the continuity of Friedberger's work. By coincidence, Knieper's studio in Germantown, NY where the album was recorded is in a barn that was once rented by Matthew Friedberger and stored the furniture of their grandmother -- the same grandmother whose spoken word reminiscences were the basis of the Fiery Furnaces LP Rehearsing My Choir. You won't hear much of that album here, but songs like "Open Season" recall the Furnaces at their most magisterial. The wry, plainspoken "Because I Asked You" builds on the style Friedberger first polished on her solo debut Last Summer. And then there's "A Long Walk," the sun-striped finale that lends a memorable afterglow to New View. It's a sweet, aching goodbye from an album that seems full of them.
-- SCOTT JACOBSON
Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons' solo excursions as Blanck Mass culminated earlier this year in the excellent double LP, Dumb Flesh. One of the best album cuts was "No Lite," which is reimagined here by the legendary Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle) with the help of Timothy Leary's dreamachine and a sample of a "weird old English penny whistle." Genesis knew intuitively that those recordings, made over 30 years ago, would mesh well with the BPM of "No Lite," and the result is this incredible remix. This one-sided, white-label 12" presents her take on the track as a strictly limited, vinyl-only edition of 500.
Power said of the project: "With her being a hugely important innovator who constantly challenges pop culture, I was very excited at the prospect of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge working on a remix of 'No Lite'. I had a feeling that it would have been approached from an interesting angle and the results do not disappoint."
In late 2013, with two well-received full-lengths and an EP under its belt, Radiation City got the itch. The band had built a strong following in its native Portland and connected with fans around the world, and from the outside, the path seemed clear enough: find a great producer to work with and further develop the smooth, space-age doo-wop sound that had put them on the map in the first place.
But on the inside, things weren’t so simple. Cameron Spies and Lizzy Ellison, Radiation City’s founding couple, were falling apart. Rad City, a tight-as-family band that always seemed to work so effortlessly off- and onstage, was on the verge of calling it quits.
Then a funny thing happened: Spies and Ellison got together to record some new, urgent and semi-spontaneous songs and rediscovered that old magic. “None of it felt rushed, or belabored,” Spies says. “It was honest and unafraid.”
Of course, it was also the product of just 40 percent of the group. So, in the face of ambivalence and the band’s impending implosion, Ellison and Spies decided to do something they’d never done before—they transformed Radiation City from a democracy into a monarchy. They curated a new tracklist for the third full-length (half new songs and half old ones), enlisted Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Riley Geare to be their studio drummer, and found their great producer in John Vanderslice (Spoon, Death Cab For Cutie) of Tiny Telephone Studios.
The band’s issues didn’t end with these revelations—Spies and Ellison broke up temporarily and called off their wedding, one band member was let go, and only half of the group went to San Francisco to record the tracks for the new album—but the die was cast.
Radiation City was not going to polish up its old style for Synesthetica; it was going to completely overhaul both its process and its sound. After recording with Vanderslice, the band took its new directive back to Portland and turned to Jeremy Sherrer (Modest Mouse, Gossip) at Ice Cream Party to flesh out its studio sessions.
In contrast—or, perhaps, in response—to all the human drama involved in creating Synesthetica, the album itself turned into something otherworldly. “We were trying to get to a place where cultural constructs didn’t mean anything,” Spies says. “We wanted to destroy the barriers between all the things we keep separate in our daily lives.”
Based on the condition known as synesthesia, whereby a person links one sensual experience with another (for Ellison, who experiences it, that means seeing specific colors when she hears different musical sounds), Synesthetica is a place where multi-sensory experience is commonplace; where feelings and definitions blend and melt, and surreality becomes reality.
Synesthetica means a lot of other things for Radiation City, too. The band is sensual and synthetic in equal turns—just check out the Bond-worthy “Butter” or the explosive “Milky White” for proof. Synthesizers comprise a major piece of the band’s musical puzzle, especially on the trippy “Juicy” and the minimal “Sugar Broom,” which nods toward Portland legends (and Rad City homies), STRFKR. And an interest in retro-futurism, which the title subtly implies, has been a hallmark of its sound and visual aesthetic from the get-go (as the sweeping space-tango, “Futures,” reminds us).
The word synesthetica is the summation of a pivotal third album that, from the outside, probably seems as effortless as every other Radiation City release. Synesthetica almost killed this band, but instead, it serves as the opening salvo of a monumental second act, and Radiation City is invincible.