Monday, July 11, 2011

Album Review: Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer

On her solo debut, Last Summer, Eleanor Friedberger presents a musical scrapbook from the summer of 2010 in New York City.

Each song tells a single story, paints a portrait of a landmark or invokes a mood. She compares 2010 to other summers, often lamenting the increased presence of technology in present day. All together the songs provide a sometimes wistful, sometimes sombre view of the summer in the city.

Last Summer is ripe with nostalgia, but isn’t overly reliant on wishy-washy synths or do-wop harmonies. The music sizzles with variety and interesting instrumentation that shifts from song to song. “My Mistakes” is clap-inducing pop with unusual percussion and a sax solo. “Inn of the Seventh Ray” is full of psychedelic flourishes and reverb.

“Roosevelt Island” stands out the most. An agile, powerful bass line drives the funky groove through crescendos of synth and pianos and allow Friedbergs vocals to prance on top of the song.

Fans of her main band, The Fiery Furnaces, will find Friedberger’s music on Last Summer tamer, but her vocal performance just as compelling. Her speak-singing and her tempo-free cadence not only allow for detailed lyrics, but also create a sense of freedom that is necessary for an album about summer. The one draw back is that this technique often comes at the expense of melody. There are a few singable melodies such as “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight,” but not as many as one would like.

Whether you listen closely to every word or just let the album stir in the background while you flip through a photo album, Last Summer is a satisfying solo debut from Friedberger.

Last Summer will be released on July 12 via Merge Records.

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