Quick Spins: Eleanor Friedberger’s ‘Last Summer’ is a lyrical journey
By David Malitz,
Eleanor Friedberger Last Summer
Here’s one to add to your summer reading list: the lyric booklet that accompanies “Last Summer,” Eleanor Friedberger’s exhilarating solo debut. It’s a page-turner — 10 vivid short stories of a season spent in Brooklyn, stuffed with the sort of eye-catching minor details that are more associated with a bestseller book than an indie rock record. It’s one of the best lyrical albums of the year, and simply one of the best. Friedberger turns these wordy tales into charming and lively songs that deftly balance narrative, nostalgia and humor.
Fiery Furnaces, Friedberger’s band with her twin brother Matthew, has earned a reputation as one of rock’s most impenetrable bands over its decade-long run. The duo’s songs are usually wild tangles of words and wandering musical ideas that can sometimes lure listeners in but just as often feel like an endurance test. On “Last Summer” the only wandering is Friedberger through the outskirts of Brooklyn. She reins in the musical hyperactivity while still keeping enough twists and turns to keep things from ever feeling stale. Punchy, bouncy piano pop propels most of the songs while the funk undercurrents on “Roosevelt Island” and minimal handclap percussion of “Early Earthquake” help make those highlights.
But it’s Friedberger’s words that make “Last Summer.” We follow her through side streets, city parks and bike shops and meet all the characters she encounters. She doesn’t offer a window into her world, she shows us the entire thing. “I crashed on Banker, cut my head and my knees / The ambulance was called by a guy and his friend called Guru / They were visiting from California and I swear they . . . saved life,” she sings on the stunning title track, her nimble delivery and unadorned speak-sing making the words all the more entrancing. The subject matter of “Last Summer” may be tied to a specific moment, but this is an album to be enjoyed for plenty of time to come.
— David Malitz
“My Mistakes,” “Roosevelt Island,” “Early Earthquake”