Album review: Eleanor Friedberger’s ‘Last Summer’

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Given the Fiery Furnaces’ obsessively prolific career -- member Matthew Friedberger is currently making his way through a multi-volume solo project -- it’s a wonder that Eleanor Friedberger’s debut solo record, “Last Summer,” didn’t arrive many seasons ago. It took the brother-sister duo’s 2009 effort, “Take Me Round Again,” a collection of dueling covers of Furnaces originals, to reveal Eleanor’s solo ambitions; a surprisingly release-free 2010 finally gave her the chance to explore them.

The result is a collection that can be most easily defined by what it is not: lengthy, medley-filled, experimental nor grandmother-featuring. Instead, the 10-track, not-quite 40-minute release plays like the early Rolling Stones records the band once aspired to: with priorities on songwriting first, then taking listeners on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride second, if at all. In regular Furnaces fashion, staccato pianos, backward guitars and squelchy synthesizers do fill their expected places as the music draws on the better ideas of Eleanor’s parents’ golden years.

“Roosevelt Island,” the set’s highlight, applies a pop hook to ‘70s funk, while “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight” offers the jittery piano bounce of the “Between the Buttons”-era Stones.

While the Furnaces’ ‘60s pop chop salads are often as bewildering as they are rewarding, “Last Summer” turns to its lyrics to examine confusion. “It doesn’t seem like anything could be better than that, riding that train,” Friedberger sings in “Roosevelt Island,” reassured by the subway’s dependable motion, but elsewhere, she’s at odds with time and space: “Glitter Gold Year” presents 2010 as a moment she wants to erase, while “Owl’s Head Park” finds her losing her sense of direction, even her name.


For all her internal chaos, Friedberger’s debut is a concise, considerate effort. Should listeners miss Matthew, of course, there’s always that eight-LP box set.

Eleanor Friedberger
“Last Summer”
Merge Records
Three stars (Out of four)


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-- David Greenwald