Last Summer (Merge)
Last Summer, the first solo release from Eleanor Friedberger, half of the Brooklyn duo The Fiery Furnaces, is, for better or for worse, a summer record. And being that the summer in question is last summer, there is a reflective quality to the songs, with lyrics that employ common summer activities/locales like bike riding, Coney Island, and the Cyclone. Friedberger uses these “summer” places to recall past events and gauge their meaning a year later. And similar to her songwriting for The Fiery Furnances, the lyrics can be long and kind of idiosyncratic and intensely specific, so much so that some of the songs on this record seem to drag on even though only one breaks the five-minute mark.
There are several crazy successful songs on Last Summer, songs that make me want to hear them again, and again, and again, as soon as they are over. “My Mistakes,” “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight,” and “Early Earthquake” all have a sense of universal placeness, of emotional commonality paired with a catchy beat. These are songs for all of our summers and all of their themes: mistakes, love, promises, etc. I probably listened to “My Mistakes” about 20 times the first time I heard it just because it was so sonically and cyclically satisfying. The line “I hope I don’t crash like that night last summer” carries a double meaning: the physical bike crash and the emotional crash of failed or failing relationships, set to a bouncy beat, a toy piano, and an intense sax solo.
That said, some of the songs on this record concern themselves with more mundane things: one’s email inbox, shaving off one’s hair, long day-in-the-life stories a la the fourth song, “Scenes from Bensonhurst.” This song feels drawn out because there is such detail to the lyrics, and these kinds of details are really only as interesting as someone else’s dreams can be interesting. “Roosevelt Island” is more successful in that it has a funky bass line, along with a catchy chorus that justifies its quirky meandering. There are just enough relatable feelings in the song to make you want to hear it over and over again, even if the same can’t be said for the album as a whole.