When so many artists become consumed with concocting an album that attempts to define music or otherwise reach for music’s lowest common denominator, it’s hard to remember how personal the album form can be. In just an hour, it can reflect an artist’s feelings from the deepest to most fleeting.
Eleanor Friedberger, one half of the sibling duo The Fiery Furnaces, doesn’t seem to forget this on her debut solo album, Last Summer. As evidenced by its title, the album was recorded last summer in New York City, but it actually evokes hazy memories of ’60s AM pop radio and the radical rock of the same time. In its ruminative, rambling glory, Last Summer becomes her means to reflect on that summer.
Friedberger doesn’t have much of a voice. Her singing is more speech searching for a melody. However, it works to her favor. On “Owl’s Head Park,” she recollects the park in Mrs. Dalloway-like detail, meandering through her memories (“I only took one picture that day/It’s me on that bike/Posing next to that white Lamborghini/On Manhattan Avenue”). She does the same on the funky, disco-tinged “Roosevelt Island.”
It’s Virginia Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style that gets to the core aesthetic of Friedberger. She doesn’t evoke much through heavy narratives or bombastic music. Instead, she writes about her surroundings to bring up moods and uses music as support. There’s regret and anger in the pounding keyboard and the elongation of “erase” in the chorus on “Glitter Gold Year.” There’s giddiness in the clip-clapping and the harmonized vocals on “Early Earthquake.”
In its eclectic mix of genres and lyrical ruminations, Last Summer gets at the essence of summer as a hazy time filled with unbridled opportunity, hope, joy and regret. It’s an album that will sound just as good this summer and the next and the next.
Printed on 07/14/2011 as: Solo album shows lyrical craftsmanship