The Fiery Furnaces are a band I’ve always been fond of, if not fanatical about. The wilfully jarring effects they often pursued could offset the blatant majesty of the vocals. Written largely on the piano, and with no worries about actually being really quite accessible, Friedberger’s first solo outing is a delightfully unassuming collection of quirky pop songs and it was one of several true surprises in 2011.
Centred around a period of Friedberger’s life in New York a decade past, the album is an autobiographical outpouring, underlined by the inclusion of several pages of a diary from the end of the album’s creation. ‘Scenes From Bensonhurst’ is a reaction to a friend’s experience at the hands of the internet: how easily people can be found, contacted and bothered. Titles like ‘My Mistakes’ and ‘Heaven’ are in no way cryptic, and a wide range of subjects are touched upon across the course of these ten songs in typically verbose fashion.
Her distinctive vocal style is, obviously, present but used in a more restrained fashion, sounding more soulful, more human. The early part of ‘Last Summer’ is littered with 70s style pop hooks; it even looks like one of those albums you find in the 1970s American Alt-Folk* section in a second hand record shop. As with so many group-member-goes-solo albums, it feels like the pressure is off and there’s no massive search for a concept or a ‘sound’. The warm, buzzing guitar which kicks in early on album opener ‘My Mistakes’ is glorious and jumps out of the speakers. You know, like music used to do before most of it was all mastered at the same sodding volume.
Friedberger’s tendency to rearrange the emphasis in words and sentences continues here and she’s said in interviews that she was interested in how the words sounded together, and not in terms of basic rhyme, but how they slotted together to form a verse or a chorus. It makes for a situation not dissimilar to when you listen to songs in a language you don’t speak – the vocals take on a role in the musical backdrop. This is reinforced by some great backing vocals on ‘Inn Of The Seventh Ray’, which bounce and echo all over the place, pushing the song in a different direction.
Having first listened to this album in the summer, it feels a little odd to be summarising its poppy delights while it snows outside. What I ultimately love about ‘Last Summer’ is its unassuming, but enormous, hooks. ‘Early Earthquake’ is a clap-a-long burst of euphoria which gently emerges from the end of the more complex ‘Owl’s Head Park’ and offers a fitting ending to an album which plays its trump card three tracks in. ‘Heaven’ is one of the most glorious tunes I’ve heard all year. It has a chug which would make for an easy segue into Take That’s ‘Shine’, it possesses Friedberger’s most soulful vocal of the whole record and it sounds like a classic old 7” single which would receive rave reviews and be described as ‘buried treasure’. The fact that it didn’t become a worldwide hit, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been.
*No? You need to visit a better second-hand shop.