By MICHAEL HAMAD, email@example.com
4:04 PM EST, December 9, 2013
Timing is everything. When Eleanor Friedberger's second album, "Personal Record," came out in June, it sounded like the perfect soundtrack for summer, with warm Rhodes piano, sunny acoustic guitars and Friedberger's unbothered voice mixed way out front. There's an L.A. soft-rock vibe to the whole thing, and grooves fit for swaying or convertible-driving.
Now, in December, it's hard to ignore its wintry overtones, the distances and feelings of isolation, the envy and exile, Friedberger's chilly dismissals of sometime/longtime love interests who stray knowingly or simply need reminders of what they'd be missing. It's also a record about geography, literal and in degrees of personal space. "It's hard when you're far out, forget when you're near," she sings on "I Don't Want to Bother You," the opening track. "I'd rather be two inches from your face than floating about in a different state." "Stare at the Sun," one of the album's catchier songs, finds the singer outside city limits — figurative ones — basking in a rural glow, "far from the town in the suburbs of your pleasure." Getting out of town, it seems, is a good thing, if your eyes can adjust to the light.
Friedberger, who fronted the indie-rock band The Fiery Furnaces for more than a decade, plays a show at the Spaceland Ballroom in Hamden on Saturday, Dec. 14. When we spoke on the phone, she was leaving Brooklyn, N.Y., her home for the last 14 years, and moving 100 miles north. "It makes you really look at yourself," she said, surveying stacks of boxes and piles of belongings. "I had an opportunity to buy a place with a friend of mine. It's time for a change."
Friedberger wrote the 12 songs on "Personal Record" between the recording of "Last Summer," her first solo album, and that album's release date six months later. She toured with the "Personal Record" songs for months before tracking them in the studio. "I was trying to make a live-sounding album," she said. "We did the basic tracks in five days in New York. The guy who played bass and guitar had been touring with me. They were along the ride for the whole process."
By the time tape started rolling, the songs were polished. "We knew them very well, but it felt spontaneous. I'm so used to doing albums that are studio creations with lots of overdubs," she says. "For me, it was so satisfying that I had known the songs so well. It was just a matter of execution, just knowing how every song was supposed to sound. I had never worked this way before."
"Personal Record," in a sense, is the West Coast reflection of "Last Summer." Friedberger wrote the songs while listening to Cali-centric music: Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, the Grateful Dead. She spent 10 days in producer Eric Broucek's L.A. studio, doing overdubs, driving around in a Prius and eating lentils. Promo photos show Friedberger out in the desert somewhere; the cover image is a woman swimming laps in a pool. "This collection is more timeless," and although there a lot of details about locations, they could happen anywhere," she said.
References to other music pop up everywhere, from lyrical nods to Soft Machine and Dexy's Midnight Runners, to the session-man guitar leads and two-chord pop of "My Own World," to the groove of "She's a Mirror," which conjures up Hall and Oates. Snippets or phrases act as shorthand between Friedberger and her colleagues. "I'm not a trained musician, so it's easier to reference music that way," Friedberger said. "That's the language that I have. One of the best parts about having musical relationships is that you share music with others, introducing people to different things. That's one of the perks of touring, playing music in the van with other people."
With her New York exit looming, Friedberger said she's not likely to write songs about leaving.
"I love New York," she said. "For me, it's a purely financial decision. I want to have space and I can't afford to live in the kind of apartment that I want. I travel a lot, and I always love coming back to New York. It's a thrill to see the city from that perspective. That's not going to go away for me."
Eleanor Friedberger, Dec. 14, 9 p.m., $12-$15, Spaceland Ballroom, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden, spacelandballroom.com
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