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"Last Summer"

Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer
25 November 2011, 13:45 Written by Michael James Hall

As the ever-esoteric face and voice of the ever-evolving brother-sister combo The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor Friedberger has made bohemia her playground, hopscotching neatly between pretension and pop, veering wildly from introspection to playful delight.

Last Summer is a record unlike any of her previous ventures, sharing superficial similarities with the Furnaces at their most accessible but with their wildest extravagances fine-tuned out of existence, leaving us with an at times glorious album of joyous quirk-pop.

While much of the talk around this record has been of it’s 70s singer-songwriter feel, perhaps indicated most strongly on the cod-psych of ‘Inn Of The Seventh Ray’ and the gentle strum of ‘One Month Marathon’, it’s the spirit of the mighty Ted Leo that’s most obviously in evidence. Friedberger’s mastery of melody, half-spoken, half-sung verses and constant referencing of places and names call to mind both Leo’s specificity and verbose brilliance.
‘My Mistakes’ for instance is an irresistible Pharmacist’s style uplifter, while ‘I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight’ mirrors Leo’s interpretations of Motown via the medium of the fuzzy guitar.

Musical comparisons aside one of the most wonderful things here is just how concentrated on its subject matter it is. Focussed seemingly on a single summer in New York, it’s litany of street names, vividly drawn events (‘Owl’s Head Park’ is particularly atmospheric) and generous, openhanded recollections of beautiful, bittersweet relations is at once enveloping and evocative.

‘Roosevelt Island’ and ‘Early Earthquake’ are both great examples of just how in love this record is with it’s cast of bicycle riding, Coney Island visiting hipsters, how much affection it has for the warm, beautiful streets and scenes of NYC. It wraps you in that affection, sweeps you into the imagery and you find yourself just as in love with the album as Friedberger is with the city itself.

There are a hundred tiny joys to be found throughout – the sad, rolling bassline of ‘Scenes From Bensonhurst’, the simple, sample snare sound of ‘Glitter Gold Year’, the ethereal backing vocal breaths on ‘Heaven’ – it’s just wonderful, heart-filling stuff.

While there will be plenty of cynical heads out there with their teeth set on edge by Friedberger’s purposely quirky phrasing, cute little payoff lines and schmindie tendencies those people don’t really matter – like those that criticise Miranda July’s filmmaking for being , well, just too lovely, the little world of wonder created here isn’t necessarily for everyone – it’s for the positivists, the lovers, the smiling and the hopeful. It’d be nice to be one of those, even just for the length of an album, right?


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