In a famous essay titled “Goodbye to All That,” Joan Didion talks about the difficulties of leaving New York. She rhapsodizes about her youth spent exploring the outer boroughs and partying with the sort of art-drunk collectives that permeated downtown in in the early ’60s. Like much of her prose, it is filled with outsider dread, and even though she has left Manhattan behind like an abusive lover, there’s still a sense of melancholy attached to her wild-eyed youth.
A similar energy runs through Eleanor Friedberger’s wonderfully warm new album New View, her third solo release. As one half of twitchy art rock duo Fiery Furnaces, Friedberger was a fixture on the Lower East Side during lower Manhattan’s brief cultural resurgence just after the turn of the century, after the Strokes and Interpol made the neighborhood a center of international intrigue but before it became overrun with trust fund casualties and “slumming” financiers. But she recently decamped to the Hudson Valley, and it’s clear a slightly more casual way of life agrees with her personality. New View is a breezy record that brings the rootsy touches that often laid the Fiery Furnances’ foundations to the forefront, soaking folksy melodies in ambling strums and hums.
The result is Friedberger’s most conventional-sounding rock record, and that’s a compliment: without any high-concept noise to distract her, New View focuses on her rich voice and her remarkable ability to turn a phrase. “I heard him say, ‘I’d rather hurt myself that let you hurt me.’ Was he talking about me?” she edgily intones on “Does Turquoise Work?,” a subtly off-kilter country-rock spiral that explodes into a blissfully psychedelic climax. There are a million perfect moments like that on New View, which is overflowing with the sort of spiritual unease and ragged storytelling that recalls Lucinda Williams at her most clear-eyed: the journalistic drudgery of “He Didn’t Mention His Mother,” the acid-tongued empathy of “Sweetest Girl,” the haunting possibilities of “Two Versions of Tomorrow.” It’s the sort of specificity that one achieves only with maturity and perspective, two character traits not often associated with slamming microbrews with the faux-lumberjacks below Houston Street. In liberating herself from her former life, she’s discovered new approaches—and a new appreciation for her own voice—that she never had before. Thank goodness she said goodbye to all that.