Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Album Review: "Last Summer" by Eleanor Friedberger

Eleanor Friedberger's Last Summer was released on July
12, 2011 on Merge Records
The Illinois songstress Eleanor Friedberger may be best known for her work with her brother Matthew in the critically acclaimed The Fiery Furnaces, but after hearing all of her talents shine through on her debut solo record, Last Summer, it's clear that she's much more than just the (pardon the pun) fiery frontwoman of a heavily influential band of the 00's, she's also a powerhouse of a solo artist who's mastered all of the little nuances of her sound, making sure that there's not a single moment on this record that's lacking in sound or lyricism.  Friedberger's record is filled with densely packed layers of instrumentation that perfectly compliment the refrain and subtlety that's displayed in her vocals.

From the beginning of the record, which opens with a summery tune called "My Mistakes", Friedberger perfectly sets the precedent for the rest of the record in terms of the vibes she's giving off and the amount of depth that's put into these songs.  "You know I do my best thinking when I'm flying down the bridge, humming to myself and kicking up my kicks" is the first line on the album and it's one that sets such an excellent image for the listener, much like the rest of the lyricism on the rest of Last Summer.  It's an incredibly cohesive work that covers most of the spectrum of summer feelings, the ups, downs, and all of the in between.  Each song paints its own portrait of a day, week, month or whatever it be that can encompass all of the feelings associated with THAT summer.  On the album opener Friedberger continually sings of Summer 2010 and the rest of the album plays out as an insight into this portion of her life that is portrayed with such finesse that at times it can feel as if we're getting a look into a personal journal.

While Friedberger doesn't make any bold leaps in terms of innovation with her lyricism or her instrumentation, she certainly has mastered her own style of both and has switched it up enough to make it continually interesting.  Her phrasing and vocal melodies consistently switch up and many of the faster paced songs boast a pseudo-sing/talk that leaves the listener gliding along with her nostalgia filled soundwaves that oftentimes leave you drifting away to a time and place of your own, not only getting a glimpse into Friedberger's last summer but into your own experiences as well.  It's always great to have albums that can be simultaneously personal but also relatable and the lyricism on Last Summer allows for just that, it's not vague or blanketed but it's also not heart wrenchingly personal, it's a perfect in between.

The best part of this album is just how damn versatile it is, from one track to the next you can experience lush, slow building, reverb filled vocals that coast through a dreamy soundscape to a funky indie pop tune such as "Roosevelt Island".  It's great getting to see the many faces of Eleanor Friedberg shine through on this record, each genre she begins to take a foray into she seems to get her feet wet just enough to not feel out of place in it, there's just enough of the influence present to maintain her own sound within this new one.  It makes for an incredibly interesting listen through and certainly adds to the replayability of this record.  While it's not going to be breaking barriers in terms of innovation, it's still a delectable album that shows off Eleanor Friedberger's true chops.  She doesn't need her brother or the comfortable cushion of a massively successful band to fall back on, she can make an great record on her own and that's precisely what she's done with Last Summer.

Standout Tracks:
"I Won't Fall Apart On You Tonight", "Roosevelt Island", "My Mistakes", "Scenes From Bensonhurst"

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