A collection of fragmented memories made wistful by warm production.
Nick Levine 2011
Ease is relative. Ordering a drink at a Chinese cafe is a cinch once you've translated Joni Mitchell's back catalogue into Mandarin. Likewise, listening to Eleanor Friedberger's solo debut is a doddle if you've ever done battle with The Fiery Furnaces. Over the last eight years, Friedberger and her brother Matthew have played hopscotch all over the line between experimental and pretentious; their adventures in sound include a concept album about their grandmother's life, a kind of indie rock opera called Blueberry Boat, and a live album in which they spliced together sundry recordings of each song to form "musical collages".
The conceit here is less esoteric. Last Summer finds Friedberger revisiting her "frame of mind" when she moved to New York a decade ago. It plays like a collection of fragmented memories, made all the more wistful by the warm and fuzzy production and some affectionate nods to 1970s pop. My Mistakes and I Won't Fall Apart on You Tonight are as catchy as anything Friedberger has ever recorded; Heaven suggests a spaced-out Carole King covering one of her old girl-group tunes; and Glitter Gold Year works a Bennie and the Jets-style staccato stomp.
Of course, not everything is as instantly ingratiating – Early Earthquake sounds like an impromptu jam session in an organic coffee shop – and Friedberger's lyrics are still tricky. At times, she can be as rambling and idiosyncratic as a cross-dressing hiker. Last Summer will surely become history's only pop album to "imagine Christopher Walken as a dancer named Ronnie", spin a yarn about picking up used bicycle parts on Coney Island, and drop a line like "Let's study the stonemasonry, lady!"
But thanks to her breezy bohemian charms, even its knottier moments start to unravel with repeated listens. Almost surreptitiously, these glimpses of a quirky, inquisitive New York life become so intriguing that it doesn't feel silly to Google obscure Brooklyn streets that Friedberger mentions in passing. And if that sounds suspiciously like putting some work in, well, just remember that ease is relative.