It comes as no surprise that the sagacious and voracious referential Eleanor Friedberger has so easily taken to the pop sensibility with such aplomb and elan. As part of the – ‘family business’ – Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor has gradually gravitated towards a more melodic and commercially viable light. The signs were all there of course: the Furnace’s last sojourn, ‘I’m Going Away’, was already a sea-change from their previous jerky, awkward, avant-indie sound; turning towards a more heavily whimsical and digestable 70s bedecked oeuvre of influences instead (we’ll be coming back this later). Now set adrift to go solo, our syllable stretching, literature cramming, adroit sassy poster girl slips comfortably into her annoited role as a chronicler of a post 9/11 New York.
‘Last Summer’ loosely reflects and evokes a familier theme; which runs throughout much of the Furnaces’ back catalogue, i.e America. Those last two kooky and pulchritude purviews of character sketches and lovelorn paeans, ‘Widow City’ and ‘I’m Going Away’, took a ‘5 Easy Pieces’ style travial into the the middle and south of the countries heartland. Returning now, to the Big Apple, Eleanor revisits those personal locations that have have struck an invocative chord; dotted amongst a indie-film presentation view of the five bouroughs – from Bensonhurst (‘Scenes From Bensonhurst’) to Coney Island (‘Owl’s Head Park’). Not so much postcards from a city, as the remnants of a memorable and moving relationship; though this relationship is not all it seems. There’s also a rather sad, and introspective series of forloin lyrics alluding to our narrator’s disenchantment with her own appearence: at times its as if she wishes to disappear and emerge as someone else.
Precursor Moroder pulsing and stroked pop single My Mistakes, encapsulates the reflective vibe of the whole LP. Like a Harvard drop-out Debbie Harry spouting perspicacious observations that seem highly irrelevent , yet curiously important to the plot: “She’s got kind of a native vibe/Before that look was so cool”. Contender for single #2, and appropriate bookend, is the Sparks-meets-80s power pop sherbet I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight: a warped effects laden Patti Smith deliberated cruise through sacrificial sentiment. Sentiment doesn’t come much more saccharine then when Eleanor felicitously coos and sighs “Did you ever find a place to believe” on the Carole King imbued and sweetly laced Gilmour Girls-esque theme tune, Heaven.
The redolent 70s songwriters inspiration seeps into every songs pores, with gestures made in the direction of Harry Nilson and Todd Rundgren, and even Elton John! – Glitter Gold Year is a right old mish-mash of ponderous ‘Benny And The Jets’ stumbling piano refrain and Supertramp‘s ‘Breakfast In America’ slowed MOR. Only Eleanor could pull-off such a coup, without succombing to pastiche and parody: the cooly aloof, straight-A wise-cracker finds something integral and empirical about this epoch. Taking heed not to completly renounce the moodier and more plaintive blues of the Furnaces; Inn Of The Seventh Ray unfolds like a heart-breaking passage in a Synecdoche stage-play. Eleanor’s soliloquy, almost detached and trance like delivered, narrative describes a host of meeting places, taverns and scenery from California – the only song not tied to New York – that feature in a sad plot. Its also an unsettling observation on identity as Eleanor makes one of the albums many references to starring into the mirror and disappearing into someone else: “Thats pose together my sister in the mirror of the wet bar/the only girl I see myself is you”. On the ‘give my regards to Broadway’ sullen ode to Seventh Avenue, One Month Marathon, she exudes a disturbing obsession with an un-identifiable protaganist and object of desire: “Can I play in your closet/ Can I poke around your drawers/Can I see through your mirror/Can I come in your store.”
This pop aesthetic really suits Eleanor; its as if her whole career has been leading upto this moment. Its also, only right, that she reaches a wider audience, as Last Summer blends the quirky experimental elements of the Furnaces to a more conventional, if not friendly, format; full of endearing charm and intellectually acute promise.