Last Summer with Eleanor Friedberger
It seems like everyone is nominating their album for the summer. The new Bon Iver record is a strong contender, and seems a real progression from his debut. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with the Washed Out album, but what I have heard was a little too Eighties Pastiche for my tastes. However, while the jury is still out, I think I could well settle on the Eleanor Friedberger solo album, Last Summer, as my choice.
Friedberger is better known for her work with her brother Matthew in the band the Fiery Furnaces. Fiery Furnaces are probably one of the stranger mainstream-alternative (for want of a better term) acts of the last ten years.
Much of their work defies description, which I fully appreciate isn’t a whole lot of help to you. I’ve always been a little scared off from their stuff, but have been revisiting in light of Last Summer. I think it is fair to say many of Fiery Furnaces’ songs are like cryptic crosswords, both lyrically and musically. They throw in obscure musical and lyrical references, are ever-shifting and seem to leap amongst a variety of styles, leaving the listener to pick it all apart to make sense of it. And much like cryptic crosswords, they are frequently frustrating, but with a little time spent on them are ultimately rewarding.
And so it is quite a surprise that Last Summer is so straightforward. It feels like a consciously accessible and summery album. Many of these songs wouldn’t sound out-of-place on daytime radio or a movie soundtrack. It sounds like Friedberger has wrestled the pop songs that were hiding within the more esoteric stuff in the Fiery Furnaces’ work.
My Mistakes is a great pop single and opener, setting out the stall of seventies-inspired, laidback yet crafted pop. Roosevelt Island brings out the gentle funk, yet veers dangerously close to sounding like Texas. At times the album can sound a little pedestrian, especially compared to Friedberger’s earlier work, especially with the plodding piano and drums on Heaven and Scenes from Bensonhurst. Yet, in terms of the general easy-going nature of the album it’s forgivable and at this stage I’ll file the weaker songs as ‘growers’ and give them the benefit of the doubt.
The standout song is I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight, which elevates the album from being a good one, to a potentially great one. It is gorgeous, unashamed 60s/70s inspired pop, that Friedberger carries off without making it sound like an empty pastiche. It is beautifully arranged and considered, yet sounds effortless.
Friedberger generally sounds far more relaxed and comfortable than on the Fiery Furnaces’ records I’ve heard. On those records she sings with a kind of deadpan authority, a calm yet uncanny presence amongst the odd lyrics and musical shifts. On Last Summer it all feels a little more natural. She is generally still restrained and controlled in her singing, which means when she cuts loose on the likes of I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight it has a real impact. She is clearly capable of tailoring her delivery according to the style of the music. The simplicity of the record shows her versatility, and ultimately her confidence in her songwriting.
Anyway, what are you listening to this summer? And where should I go next on my Fiery Furnaces Odyssey?
This one’s on my to-get list. It’s a lot harder now that I’ve forsworn off of both illegal music purchases and blowing through my layoff fund. But still. One of these days.
My summer album is David Comes to Life, which I probably know backwards and forwards by now. Runners up: the new ones from My Morning Jacket and Bon Iver. My spring albums, Kurt Vile and the Smith Westerns, are still in heavy rotation.
Do you have a biggest disappointment so far? I haven’t joined the Cults cult, and the new one from the Fleet Foxes isn’t clicking with me.
Addendum: it’s not on my mp3 player, but I could write a term paper about Terrence Malick’s use of music in The Tree of Life.
I see Spotify is launching in the US, you should give it a try – it has been my main way around avoiding illegal downloading and not blowing my paypacket on CDs.
I enjoyed David Comes To Life, but probably need to give it a little more attention. There’s a lot to take in in one sitting.
The Kurt Vile album is my album of the year so far, by some distance.
I’ve yet to listen to Cults.
I’ve never really got the fuss around Fleet Foxes. They just sound like a poor man’s Crosby, Stills & Nash to me.
I haven’t seen The Tree of Life, and have read some pretty mixed reviews. Would you recommend it?
I’ve heard good things about Spotify. I just requested an invitation. It sounds way hipper than G+, for sure.
The Tree of Life is the best movie I’ve seen in a long, long time. But it took me two viewings to grasp the scope of the movie, and I want to see it one more time before it leaves the theaters–even the most straightforward parts are wildly ambitious. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone but I suspect you’d be up to the challenge.
In re David Comes to Life: give it another chance, for sure. Even if the storyline with shifting POV and unreliable narrators isn’t your thing it’s a great guitar album.
The new Fleet Foxes album seems like a grand statement about turning 30 and becoming a grownup. But good god they make maturity and responsibility sound boring.
Spotify is pretty awesome. The current UK model is 10 hours of free music a month, and then you pay for more access. The free version has served me well so far, but I’d be tempted to go for the paid version as there are so many different albums available, and I’m quickly using up my allocation.
I shall try and see The Tree of Life, although I haven’t been to the cinema in an age. For some reason, we seem to see nothing but animation stuff at the cinema. But considering the last choice I made at the cinema was Hunger, with extended scenes of dirty protests and hunger strikes I can understand why. That wasn’t the best date movie.
Your verdict on Fleet Foxes is spot on. It is all a little polite and a little dull.
Spotify here has a waiting list for the free version. One of the pay versions has an offline mode, which sounds lovely since I’m off the grid sometimes. I’m pretty much sold. I think I’m pretty much sold.
You’ll have to let me know what you think of Tree of Life. It’s made the response to your earlier post (still working on it) much more difficult, that’s for sure.
[…] really wanted to like her album, Last Summer. I blogged about it and everything. Now, I don’t hate it a such, but it never really grew on me in the way I thought it might. I […]