After releasing eight albums in eight years, it’s probably about time The Fiery Furnaces took a break. The Brooklyn duo, consisting of siblings Mathew and Eleanor Friedberger, have built a career on making challenging, esoteric records – including 10 minute epics, concept albums about their grandmother and experimental sound collages.
While they take a hiatus, Eleanor Friedberger has recorded her debut solo album, and she’s taken another left-turn – although this time, it’s not one you’d expect. For Last Summer is, if not massively commercial, certainly an accessible album: 10 breezy pop songs, albeit with some incredibly dense lyrics, that could easily slot in to daytime radio.
Almost exclusively about New York City, Last Summer reads as a love letter/travelogue about the Big Apple – memories of childhood and places important to her, while the music hops from genre to genre: there are nods to Motown, funk and AOR guitar rock. Best of all, it hangs together superbly well as an album, giving this the sound not so much as a side-project but as a successful new career for Friedburger.
My Mistakes kicks the album off beautifully; a carefree, nostalgia-rich strum which could be about anything from crashing on a bridge to time travel. No matter what the lyrical subject is, it makes for a perfect introduction to the album – bright, sunny, catchy but with a weird edge to it that makes for a compelling listen.
Those lyrics don’t become any less fascinating over the course of the album. The wistful Inn Of The Seventh Ray sees Friedberger being stood up on a date to the titular restaurant, before finding herself “watching Footloose with the biggest bottle of vodka in the world”. Occasionally her delivery sounds almost stream-of-consciousness, so dense is the wordplay on display.
There are plenty of pop culture references thrown in as well (listen carefully and you’ll hear mention of Christopher Walken, The Girl Who Played With Fire and Shutter Island) but what really surprises is the breadth of musical ideas. The standout track Roosevelt Island is a masterclass in what can only be described as ’70s squelchy disco-funk’ while the soulful strut of I Won’t Fall Apart On You Again proves impossibly contagious.
Although Last Summer is accessible, it’s not what could be called conventional. Owl’s Head Park is a dreamy narrative about a bicycle ride around Coney Island accompanied by a hazy blast of saxophones which segues perfectly into closing track Early Earthquake. While it won’t, unlike a lot of her band’s back catalogue, scare away the casual listener, there’s enough depth here to keep it sounding fresh for a number of months.
Hopefully this won’t just be a one-off project from Friedberger – Last Summer pulls off the impressive feat of being luxuriantly listenable while retaining Friedberger’s avant-garde roots.