Fiery Furnaces frontwoman Eleanor Friedberger may not have made a summer album in the traditional sense. This will probably not find your ears through any pulsating car speakers or block parties. But play (the aptly titled) Last Summer through at your next late summer cookout or vibrant rooftop gathering and I dare you to tell me it isn’t an ideal accompaniment.
This makes enough sense, as the album’s a selective narrative of Friedberger’s summer of 2010 (the year is specifically referenced in the song “Glitter Gold Year”), the season falling exactly a year before her solo debut was officially released on Merge on July 12, 2011. She seems to be wistfully remembering an adventurous summer, and the feeling’s contagious.
There’s warmth in her voice, perhaps from the nostalgia associated with what seems like a pretty delightful summer. But likely it’s just Friedberger herself. Whether she is running into an old scorned friend on the train (the sound of his voice and the sound of his giggle made me want to be his friend again”) or meeting someone who knows “all the best sleeping places,” she seems to approach her days with a genuine sense of wonder few of us can boast even on our better days.
She’s a gifted storyteller, endeared to detail. “Owl’s Head Park” is easily the finest ode to buying a custom bicycle from a vaguely sketchy Russian dude down near Coney Island ever written. Friedberger got one pink wheel and one white, then got lost on the way home. She kept someone waiting. Promises were broken. But even so, she’s got her bike and a story to tell in her pocket, and by now you feel like her old friend on the subway waiting to hear the next detail, which seems more important than whatever either of you had planned.
This sense of wonder packed within the record has caused many to draw comparisons between Friedberger and the singer/songwriters of the ’70s rather than her contemporaries. Indeed, there are few modern albums that pair a curious fascination with oft-overlooked details with a clear reverence to places rooted in history. But there are several modern references on the album—including an impressively unawkward e-mail inbox metaphor—and Friedberger’s songs don’t feel dated. She’s fascinated by the past while very at home in the present, and her comfort shines through.