There’s always been an odd feeling that Eleanor Friedberger can do better and it is only her brother who keeps dragging her into these jerky, disjointed, Zappa-esque experiments they are creating as The Fiery Furnaces. And even though their recent I’m Going Away (2009) record was The Furnaces at their poppiest and most accessible, it could not quite prepare the world for the true wonder that is Eleanor’s first solo record.
Last Summer is almost uncharacteristically melodic (for a Friedberger), and allows Eleanor’s personality to shine through every note and lyric. Overall, the album reveals her as a Laura Nyro-style singer-songwriter with a little more edge and inventiveness (she isn’t part of The Fiery Furnaces for nothing). Her vocals are sweet and soulful, and they well convey the inescapable sensuality of the songs.
The more playful, upbeat moments (‘My Mistakes’, ‘I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight’ – both insanely catchy) are expertly interlaced with moody, almost mysterious-sounding songs. And one just has to admire the way this record is arranged and produced; there are lots of subtle, clever touches like the understated keyboard whooshes in ‘Inn Of The Seventh Ray’, babbling guitar underpinning ‘Glitter Golden Years’ or the accordion/violin combination in ‘Owl’s Head Park’. All very complex, but then, for once, anything but “difficult”.
A deeply satisfying, soulful, stylish and sexy debut that manages to be both adventurous and perfectly accessible. All the more reasons to skip the next handful of The Fiery Furnaces records and concentrate on Eleanor’s solo work. The only feasible improvement would be an even stronger set of songs – everything else is here in spades.
Released on 14th November 2011 by Merge Records