It’s easy to think of Eleanor Friedberger as just the primary singer of the Fiery Furnaces. However, her songwriting skills were on display even on Gallowsbird’s Bark, where her song “Bright Blue Tie” was one of the lower-key standouts among the album’s musical sleights of hand. It’s not surprising, then, that Friedberger's solo debut Last Summer recalls the band’s first album and expands on that song’s lilting melody and wryly detailed lyrics. A few tracks feel like they were crowded out of the Furnaces' brimming catalog, particularly “Inn of the Seventh Ray,” which boasts some jaunty pianos and travelog lyrics that are decidedly Fiery, and “Heaven,” which makes Friedberger's knack for pop melodies literal by sounding like a ‘70s soda jingle. Meanwhile, the charm that makes the Furnaces' trickier moments ultimately winning shows up in spades on “My Mistakes” and “I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight,” perhaps the most accessible songs Friedberger has ever sung. Fortunately, though, Last Summer doesn’t trace the lines of her work with her brother too closely. Instead, she reveals a softer, more personal approach that melds singer/songwriter intimacy with her innate wit. Her voice caresses lines like “he shaved off his beard/and saw The Girl Who Played with Fire" on the lovely “Scenes from Bensonhurst,” and disparages “Glitter Gold Year”’s annus horribilus with a twist: “You said it wouldn’t be so bad/But it’s worse.” Friedberger keeps most of her stories close to home, chronicling everyday New York adventures in “Roosevelt Island” and “One-Month Marathon,” but the instrumentation she surrounds them with is far-flung. “Early Earthquake” is a potent reminder of how commanding she is with just a guitar and some percussion behind her, while “Owl’s Head Park” fuses strings, synths, saxophone, and layers of vocals into something lush, sophisticated, and miles away from Friedberger’s band. While Last Summer has enough ties to her work with the Fiery Furnaces to please fans, it gives Friedberger the time in the spotlight she deserves.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares