Tuesday, July 12, 2011

First Impressions: Last Summer by Eleanor Friedberger

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Eleanor Friedberger’s (she’s one half of The Fiery Furnaces, her brother Matthew forming the other half) first solo album, Last Summer, is a gem. Recorded and set firmly, at least lyrically, in Brooklyn, it’s melodic and musically sprawling, switching gears from track to track in a way that speaks to a laudable degree of musical curiosity and skill. In spite of sounds ranging from lo-fi to 1970s pop to funk, it’s a remarkably coherent work, partly due to her lyrical approach, a kind of narrative jam with words piling on top of one another in a style that could be annoying or precious but works extremely well here, partly because Friedberger’s voice suits this approach so well (and is well produced, crystal clear and not overdone) and partly because she never lets the words overwhelm the music.

She crashes right into the verse with no preliminaries on album opener “My Mistake.” It’s so abrupt I almost thought there was an error on the track, especially given the initial lo-fi vibe. Soon this is replaced by an incredible catchy chorus that’s a nice paean to Blondie. “Heaven” catches the 1970s songwriter feel, a simple plucked piano figure and handclaps pushing it along at a medium tempo.

Her musical range is evident in many tracks, most notably “Roosevelt Island,” which with its rolling white funk sticks out like a sore thumb at first, but after a couple of listens blends right in with the rest of the album. “Inn of the Seventh Ray” is one of those tracks that has a timeless quality: it could have been produced anytime in the last 40 years. "Owl's Head Park" has another feel altogether, an almost spoken word piece that doesn't hold together 100%.

Driven by a piano and simple percussion “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight” is another pop gem but it’s not all sugar and spice: “One-Month Marathon” (with it’s sad chorus “Can I play in your closet, can I poke ’round your drawer? Can I see through your mirror, can I come in your store?”) and “Scenes from Bensonhurst” are both slower “slice of life” pieces that offer a counterpoint to the generally upbeat feel.

A strong work highly recommended for those who like melodic pop with strong lyrics. 

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