Merge, 2011

Freed from the sibling rivalry of Fiery Furnaces, vocalist Eleanor Friedberger offers conversation rather than confrontation on this debut solo outing. Her sabbatical project delivers a poppier, more intimate sound. Last Summer is inspired by Friedberger’s memories from when she first moved to New York.

Recent single – “My Mistakes” – is a jaunty opener complete with a final solo sax flourish recalling the heat of last summer when the album was swiftly composed and completed.

Friedberger still sounds typically quirky. Songs that in theory could be self-indulgent rambles are delivered far more succinctly in practice. This narrative attitude occasionally resembles that of fellow New York resident Laurie Anderson especially on “Scenes From Bensonhurst” with its soaring ethereal moments and again on the confessional, late night ambience of “Owl’s Head Park”.

Not that any of Last Summer is at all experimental or ground breaking. Friedberger is really just that cool and interesting stranger on the bus with some tales to tell. Vignettes like “Roosevelt Island” where the stream of consciousness overflows through a funkier groove and the more minimal “Inn Of The Seventh Ray” beg you to be her confidant.

Yet Last Summer is more than just a New York conversation rattling around your head. There’s the sweet pop harmonies of “Heaven” contrasting with the darker, direct pounding of “Glitter Gold Year”. “I Won’t Fall Apart On You Tonight2 is a defiant, upbeat romp which could grace the end of any offbeat, indie cinema soundtrack and is a strong contender to be the next single.

Last Summer may be a more conventional set of songs than the Fiery Furnaces work but her more direct approach renders Friedberger’s solo venture more accessible and immediately charming. She’s still as quirky as ever but self-sufficiency has focused her mind.