Release Date: Jul 12, 2011
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
A welcome relief from The Fiery Furnaces’ spontaneous ad-libbing and warped song structures, Eleanor Friedberger’s seductively husky vocals are easily the most accessible aspect of the duo’s live performances. Opposite her brother Matthew, Friedberger’s work with the group is dizzying; imitating a Tilt-A-Whirl with its tendencies to throw-out the familiar rules of tempo and pitch. But after delivering a string of difficult to decipher albums (2005’s Rehearsing My Choir was a piano opera featuring the siblings’ grandmother on vocals), 2009’s I’m Going Away delivered previously intimidated listeners a gift in the form of a more accessible release, utilizing Friedberger’s at times hidden vocals by cutting back on the complicated noise.
As the singer with the Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor Friedberger was integral to the band's capricious sound, yet always seemed oddly subordinate to her older brother Matthew's aggressively experimental musical vision. Freed of his obstreperous direction, her debut solo album is an almost straightforward pop delight: the pace is relaxed, the rhythms are tidy, the melodies are unabashed, and any kinks and wonky bits (she is a Friedberger, after all) are firmly controlled. My Mistakes bounds along on a relentlessly cheerful synth riff and beams golden blasts of saxophone; One-Month Marathon embellishes its plain strummed chords and muted drums with lacy guitar trills; Roosevelt Island skims pebbles across a pool of liquid funk.
It’s easy to think of Eleanor Friedberger as just the primary singer of the Fiery Furnaces. However, her songwriting skills were on display even on Gallowsbird’s Bark, where her song “Bright Blue Tie” was one of the lower-key standouts among the album’s musical sleights of hand. It’s not surprising, then, that Friedberger's solo debut Last Summer recalls the band’s first album and expands on that song’s lilting melody and wryly detailed lyrics.
Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor’s usual ‘day job’, are a sibling duo as dotty as a pensioner in leather chaps – a twosome generally hailed for their otherness but too often queasily off-putting with albums that feel like something to endure rather than enjoy. Eleanor’s solo debut album is different.It’s still wordier than a second-hand bookshop and the screwy mental tics remain. But it’s also one of the most heart-lassoing ’70s radio-pop records since the death of flares, its psychedelic oddness leavened with big gnarly hooks, the emotional thwack of a shattered heart and intimate and bloodied narratives.
“You know I do my best thinking when I’m flying down the bridge.” So begins Eleanor Friedberger’s “My Mistakes”, the first single from solo debut Last Summer. We join her journey in media res, in her car, and she’s “humming to [herself]”. At first, the effect is much like any other detour in a song by the Fiery Furnaces—Eleanor’s regular gig and the band she shares with virtuoso brother Matthew.
The “solo record” is rather dangerous territory, especially when you’re Eleanor Friedberger and you’re stepping out from a band as unpredictable as the Fiery Furnaces. As soon as you thought they’d veer towards the pop aesthetic they so gleefully subvert, they released a record like 2005’s Rehearsing My Choir, an avant-garde collection of stories narrated by the Friedberger siblings’ grandmother. And despite some wonderfully inventive pop records, their last offering was Take Me Round Again, an album of covers of, er, Fiery Furnaces songs.
The Fiery Furnaces' 2003 debut album, Gallowsbird's Bark, introduced a band that was utterly, irresistibly restless, from its frequent stylistic and tempo shifts to the ceaselessly discursive patter of frontwoman Eleanor Friedberger. This M.O. of ambitious itchiness was one Eleanor and her brother Matthew would only intensify with albums to come, including the sprawling landmark Blueberry Boat, the conceptually brave family affair Rehearsing My Choir, and the Frankensteinian live document Remember.
An artist taking time away from his or her band to release a solo debut can lead to an album of deeper introspection, ideally an album where listeners feel the artist is speaking directly to them, thoughts pouring forth seamlessly from track to track. Eleanor Friedberger, known for her work in the brother-sister duo The Fiery Furnaces, has released such a solo album. Last Summer plays as a series of glimpses into Friedberger’s past summer in New York City.
Review Summary: One half of the Fiery Furnaces writes a summer love letter.If there were a simple way to describe brother-sister duo the Fiery Furnaces, it would be something between quirky and dense. 2005’s EP was a collection of singles that they followed with a concept album of their grandmother narrating stories in her life the very same year. I’m Going Away, their relatively uncomplicated last record, was quickly followed by an entire album of each sibling re-recording six songs from I’m Going Away, for an entirely superfluous “Friedbergers covering Friedbergers” experience.
When you write songs centered around the Hindu concept of death and purposely record parts of an album backwards, then boy, even your most ardent of fans might be surprised by anything less offbeat. Eleanor Friedberger hits that exact nail on the head with Last Summer – easily her catchiest and most personally nostalgic record to date. Firstly, it details the Fiery Furnaces singer’s time in New York a decade ago and secondly, there’s a whole lotta soul throughout: funky bass lines are often slapped hard alongside glistening piano keys by way of Sixties Motown girl-groups.
Eleanor Friedberger keeps it nice and breezy on her first solo album, Last Summer. Taking a step away from the top-heavy production style and high-concept drama of the Fiery Furnaces sound, she’s crafted a pretty neat and mostly gratifying summer album — a summer stoop album, to be exact. A love letter to her adopted home of Brooklyn, New York, Last Summer is full of easy guitar riffs and smooth sax solos, all “ooh”s and “aah”s and “ba-pa-pa”s: just the kind of stuff to take the heat off the pavement.
Over their first five albums, the Fiery Furnaces gained a steadily swelling reputation for distended maximalism, quickly unloading reams of songs sagging with prog effects and impenetrable lyricism. This technique reached a terminus on 2006’s Bitter Tea; since then, the band has pursued a kind of musical perestroika, simplifying their delivery, dividing the remaining traits between the group’s two Friedberger siblings, who were increasingly presented as independent figures working in collaboration. This continues on Last Summer, sister Eleanor’s debut, a loose concept album that’s dense but never overtly rigorous.
A collection of fragmented memories made wistful by warm production. Nick Levine 2011 Ease is relative. Ordering a drink at a Chinese cafe is a cinch once you've translated Joni Mitchell's back catalogue into Mandarin. Likewise, listening to Eleanor Friedberger's solo debut is a doddle if you've ever done battle with The Fiery Furnaces.
Based on the related suggestions Google offers for a search of the name “Eleanor Friedberger,” it seems that fans love to see her matched up—with her brother, Matthew, as part of the band the Fiery Furnaces (“Eleanor Friedberger Fiery Furnaces”), with any man, especially Franz Ferdinand‘s lead singer Alex Kapranos, in a romantic capacity (“Eleanor Friedberger boyfriend,” “Eleanor Friedberger dating,” “Alex Kapranos Eleanor Friedberger”) or with a fashion label in a promotional campaign (“Eleanor Friedberger Miu Miu”). Friedberger’s latest project finds her finally without a partner of any kind, as she steps up for her solo album, Last Summer. As the title suggests, the album was recorded last summer and shelved until now, giving the wistful happiness and nostalgia of its songs ample time to ripen.