By Eleanor Friedberger
The Fiery Furnaces kind of passed me by and after a session or two of retrospective research I'm not really sure why. Perhaps I was immersed in other bands at the time, didn't listen to 6 Music as much back then or maybe I just didn't have access to the scope of music I do now. Online - legal means only please, people - I try out more albums than I could ever afford to buy, kiss a few frogs along the way and then part with money for the stuff I like the most. Independent record shops lit the fuse between music and me and I still buy a lot of music in Jumbo and the like, but being able to trawl through this endless online "shelf" means I find gems I might have otherwise missed.
So prior to delving into their back-catalogue, the only song by The Fiery Furnaces that had registered with me was actually David Byrne's cover of "Ex-Guru". That's not a bad thing. Anyone that makes music that appeals to the Talking Heads legend is alright by me. So with a few hours listening to what brought Eleanor Freidberger to the point where she released a solo album under my belt - on went the album.
First single and opener "My Mistakes" has a controlled feel to start with which grows into a fuzzy, warm and jangly welcome to "Last Summer". There's a nice vibe here, musically a lot to see and do, and more pop character than I was expecting. "I Won't Fall Apart On You Tonight" later on, sounds like the more mature side of a conversation between the two songs. Intended or not this is a nice touch and a cool way of maintaining the themes of the album and expressing the optimism about starting over or moving on. I hope that's a theme here anyway - I heard it whether it's intended or not!
"Inn of the Seventh Ray" and "Heaven" were my personal favourites on first listen and both still stand out. Being a big fan of all things Metric and in particular, Emily Haines, these two are right up my street. The production is perfect here and I've enjoyed these turned up nice and loud just to soak in all the different parts of these songs that appeal to me. There's something really familiar about a couple of chords towards the end of "Heaven" and though I can't recall which song they remind me of right now, I'm really happy when it gets to the closing moments of this one; it's such a positive sound. (Once I work out what tune it is - I'll be playing them back to back - because I'm sad like that).
"Roosevelt Island" has a funky Stevie Wonder-like synth and bass; a real feel-good tune that squeezes in a well-crafted realism through carefully syncopated lyrics. It's a really good song in fact, but I just thought the verses deserved a more uplifting chorus which would have also given the song a shade more funk and juice. Contrastingly, the next track, "Glitter Gold Year" takes the tempo right down with a cool, limbering pace and over-enunciated vocals evoking Jefferson Airplane for me, acting as a nice break from the pop elsewhere on the album. The styles are varied on "Last Summer" and that kept it fresh enough for me, offering something different each time I've had it on.
"Owl's Head Park" shows a more grown-up indie-pop, easily accessible with simple strings and a calming bass that adds further rhythm to the hi-hats and cymbals. The simplicity of this song is its charm and the seamless merge into closing track, "Early Earthquake", is a great way to the start of the end to "Last Summer". I got the impression from the closing song that something new is about to begin for Eleanor; the seizing of opportunities, taking more risks and the broadening of horizons in music and life, or possibly both. How much she progresses beyond this solo debut is to be seen but after a few listens I'm happy to add it to the bowed shelves, which for somebody that hadn't given the music any time before, is a success to start with surely.