The Friedbergers, you could argue, are like a real-life version of the Tenenbaums. Brother Matthew and sister Eleanor are obviously intelligent, talented and odd, with their music inhabiting a Wes Andersonized world untethered from a specific time or place. If you could claim that anyone in indie rock is as unaware of, or at least as unaffected by, current trends as the Tenenbaums would be, it'd be the brother-sister team who followed up a collection of singles with a concept album revolving around their grandmother's spoken-word interludes. Depending who you're talking to, this peculiar naiveté—their reluctance to edit down ideas, seemingly having no idea they might be off-putting to some—has been the Fiery Furnaces greatest strength or their most unbearable weakness. But Eleanor, like her cinematic counterpart Margot, has always come across as slightly more aware than her brother, in turn instilling the Fiery Furnaces' nine records with just enough relatable heartache to counteract the aloofness. On her first solo album, she claims that role outright.
For starters, Last Summer finds sister Friedberger very much attached to a place. References to New York City infiltrate the album, for the first time providing her trademark fragmented lyrics with a tangible backdrop. Strung together, the 11 tracks unfold like a musical diary through recent decades: There's the 70s roller rink funk to retell a hot summer day on "Roosevelt Island," the still, sensual Fleetwood Mac-in-the-80s influence of "Owl's Head Park," and the loungey downbeats paying homage to 2010 on "Glitter Gold Year." She never shies from adding that extra lyrical detail to the snapshot, lest you forget this is still one-half of the Fiery Furnaces at work. "WatchingFootloose with the biggest bottle of vodka in the world" is effortlessly rattled off in half a breath; "I only took one picture that day, it's me on the bike, posing next to a white Lamborghini on Manhattan Avenue" soars over a sleepy saxophone, like the entire story was made to fit into one measure. More importantly, she never shies away from melody, punctuating the album with flat-out uppers like "I Won't Fall Apart on You Tonight" or "My Mistakes," nodding to "Single Again," the Furnaces' most accessible single to date. "It's a glitter gold year, 2010/I said it wouldn't come so fast, but it did," she sings halfway through. But the evolution of Eleanor Friedberger didn't come as fast, really. Flying solo, she's created an easily digestible album that sacrifices neither intelligence nor strangeness—it's about as straightforward as avant pop can be, 11 years and 10 albums in the making.