Last Summer (Merge)
As one half of the brother/sister duo the Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor Friedberger makes beguiling pop music. Their songs are full of gorgeous melodies but they demand a listener’s patience, as they clutter the songs with all manner of annoying sounds, stops and starts, frustrating the joy of a simple melody. “Hipster pop,” you might call it. Still, the group’s music usually rewards repeated listens.
On her first solo album, Friedberger doesn’t sound all that much different than the Fiery Furnaces, although she’s less trying than some of her band’s more experimental efforts. Last Summer was recorded during the summer of 2010, but shelved until this summer. The recording feels like summer, too, and kicks off with a bang with “My Mistakes,” which starts off with an acoustic guitar and drum and Friedberger singing “You know I do my best thinking when I’m flying down the bridge/Humming to myself and kicking up my kicks.” But keyboards quickly swell up and the song careens off with abandon, the way a carefree summer day might, Friedberger musing about bike wrecks and the failure to learn much of anything. What comes through most clear is the joy of living, everything a summer pop song should evoke.
Friedberger writes stream-of-consciousness lyrics that at times sound like she’s recounting a day in her life. “Roosevelt Island” details one such day: “Asleep on the train, wake up next to that guy we used to hate/But the sound of his voice and the sound of his giggling make me want to be his friend again.”
It’s one of the album’s high points, with Friedberger capturing the feeling of joy in mundane existence.