When I first heard Eleanor Friedberger was making a solo record, my first thought was: “The Fiery Furnaces are breaking up. Fuck that. I’m gonna boycott that shit.” Hey, it turns out they’re not. So I’m back on board.
Who is Eleanor Friedberger and what is a Fiery Furnace? Friedberger is previously known for her work in Chicago power-pop harmonie-musik The Fiery Furnances, a band she created with her brother Matthew at the turn of the millennium. They’re too modest to mention that they’ve won a number of awards, sold out happenings the world over, and made nine albums, most recently Take Me Round Again, a collection of cover songs from their previous album. That experience, combined with the fact that The Fiery Furnaces aren’t breaking up, inspired her to make her first solo record, Last Summer, last summer.
So: Eleanor’s Big Statement? Alone at Last? See What I Can Do When Big Brother’s Not Around? I don’t think so. I see something subtler. I hear someone kicking off her shoes, playing some vinyl for inspiration, offering her collaborators a cup of chamomile tea “or something stronger,” browsing her diary for subject matter (“the rains came but it was a good day on the whole”). Lyrically, to these innocent ears—and, God knows, I’m no critic—it sounds like Miss Friedberger may well be telling us about last summer, or various last summers. Or even—WATCH OUT!—the last summer there will ever be. (I wish I hadn’t even written that: it makes me feel sooooo sad.)
In the music, I hear the casual confrontation of the most emotionally direct Fiery Furnaces songs, plus a lot of snap, crackle, and pop. In fact, in these songs made of memories, I hear the future. I also hear Sparks, Donovan, Procol Harum, Kath Bloom, Lô Borges, and Todd Rundgren. Friedberger’s phrasing is as good as anyone’s; even better, when the line is over and most other singers would leave it right there, she’ll throw in an unnecessary extra syllable—a “yuh” or an “er,” even an “oh oh.” It’s like she hates silence. “Eleanor Friedberger’s music improves on silence”: there’s your headline.