Eleanor Friedberger-Last Summer

We have a bit of a connection between yesterday’s post and today’s, an unusual occurrence for us. Eleanor Friedberger hails from Oak Park, IL. That happens to be where The Welcome make their music. Who would have thought that one good musician would come from Oak Park, let alone whole bands (and don’t forget Betty White, Bob Newhart, and Ernest Hemingway)! Like it’s own little factory, Oak Park has been turning out talented people for over a century now, and doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

For the past decade Friedberger has been making music as half of the brother-sister team Fiery Furnaces. I’ve never understood their fanbase. I don’t hate Fiery Furnaces, but I can’t say I like them much, either. Nothing ever seems to be enough for them. With about 112 instruments and vocal effects on each track, it’s just overwhelming to listen to. They’ve done very well for themselves though, creating a nice loyal following which probably made this solo album possible.

I approached Last Summer with a bit of trepidation. I didn’t read any of the early reviews of the record until after I listened to it a couple times myself. What I found mostly was that Fiery Furnaces fans loved it, and non-fans thought it was just ok. I’m in the non-fan category, and I think the record is pretty damn good. It isn’t gonna set the world ablaze with it’s songs, but it is a good listen with some interesting stuff going on.

My favorite thing about the album is that it does away with about 99 percent of the cutesy bullshit that I find infuriating about Fiery Furnaces. There are synth flourishes and vocal effects on a lot of the songs, but not to the insane level you might find on any of Eleanor’s previous work. Pulling away from all the extra noise, she’s allowed to put focus on her songwriting and her singing.

The way she phrases her lyrics is definitely different than anyone else, lending some interest to a couple songs that wouldn’t be as compelling otherwise. In particular the song “Glitter Gold Year.” She has a slow, halting delivery (reminiscent of Frank Constanza). There’s a line in the song that I don’t think any other singer could get away with. It’s literally just saying numbers: “It’s a critical year, 2 2 2 2 0 0 0 1 0.” The funny thing is, she totally sells it. Normally I would find that kind of thing annoying as hell, but it totally fits within the parameters created by the music.

The album as a whole leans toward pop music more than any Fiery Furnaces record, and I think it suits Friedberger pretty well. It isn’t bubblegum pop by any means. Some of the songs are pretty deep and all are well-executed. It makes me wonder how much pull each sibling has when it comes to how they are going to put songs together when they work on a Furnaces song. If all the band’s music was more like this, they’d have a fan in me, and I’m guessing many others.

Eleanor Friedberger is making a short run here in Chicago, performing July 20th at The Hideout and doing a in-store performance at my favorite record store, Saki, on July 21st at 6pm. It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make it to either, but I recommend anyone in Chicago and available to head out to see her. If you head to Saki and buy the album sometime this week, you get free admission to the show at The Hideout. Something to consider.