Here’s one to add to your summer reading list: the lyric booklet that accompanies “Last Summer,” Eleanor Friedberger’s exhilarating solo debut. It’s a page-turner — 10 vivid short stories of a season spent in Brooklyn, stuffed with the sort of eye-catching minor details that are more associated with a best-selling book than an indie rock record. It’s one of the best lyrical albums of the year, and simply one of the best. Friedberger turns these wordy tales into charming and lively songs that deftly balance narrative, nostalgia and humor.
Fiery Furnaces, Friedberger’s band with her twin brother Matthew, has earned a reputation as one of rock’s most impenetrable bands over its decade-long run. The duo’s songs are usually wild tangles of words and wandering musical ideas that can sometimes lure listeners in but just as often feel like an endurance test. On “Last Summer” the only wandering is Friedberger through the outskirts of Brooklyn. She reins in the musical hyperactivity while still keeping enough twists and turns to keep things from ever feeling stale. Punchy, bouncy piano pop propels most of the songs while the funk undercurrents on “Roosevelt Island” and minimal handclap percussion of “Early Earthquake” help make those highlights.
But it’s Friedberger’s words that make “Last Summer.” We follow her through side streets, city parks and bike shops and meet all the characters she encounters. She doesn’t offer a window into her world, she shows us the entire thing. “I crashed on Banker, cut my head and my knees / The ambulance was called by a guy and his friend called Guru / They were visiting from California and I swear they . . . saved life,” she sings on the stunning title track, her nimble delivery and unadorned speak-sing making the words all the more entrancing. The subject matter of “Last Summer” may be tied to a specific moment, but this is an album to be enjoyed for plenty of time to come.
— David Malitz
Recommended Tracks: “My Mistakes,” “Roosevelt Island,” “Early Earthquake”
“Within & Without”
Washed Out is the moniker of Georgia-based musician Ernest Greene, who has issued a pair of homemade EPs under the name, both of which displayed a penchant for soundtrack-y, keyboard-based mood-scaping. (“Feel It All Around” plays over the opening credits of quirky IFC TV series “Portlandia.”) “Within and Without,” Washed Out’s full-length debut, whooshes by with an emotional and melodic cohesiveness that was previously only suggested.
As in the music of contemporaries Toro Y Moi and Neon Indian, something deeply personal is hinted at within the gently pulsing beats and piles of synthesizers, but never quite revealed. Washed Out tracks such as “Echoes” and “Before” take a cue from the early work of R.E.M., pushing vocals tantalizingly down in the mix, allowing only certain phrases and snippets to surface.
The record’s cover shot of an embracing man and woman suggest Greene’s inspiration is physical, but it works best when taken less as a collection of songs and more as a suite that conjures long car rides across open plains.
A gorgeous song like “Before” is big enough to accommodate both the natural and the physical: A gentle, cymbal-driven disco pulse is the framework for Greene’s swooping vocal lines. A female voice repeating what sounds like the word “body” serves as memorable punctuation. Recorded with assistance from Ben Allen — who has worked with Deerhunter and Animal Collective, among others — “Within and Without” is likely to be tossed onto the growing heap of “chillwave” records and perhaps forgotten. That would be a shame, because repeated plays reveal a stately, windswept elegance that few of Washed Out’s contemporaries can match.
— Patrick Foster
Recommended Tracks: “Echoes,” “Before,” “Far Away”
The Cool Kids
“When Fish Ride Bicycles”
Years after the white-hot hype turned to lukewarm interest, the first official album from Chicago nerd rappers the Cool Kids arrives not with a bang but with a shrug.
It’s not the Kids’ fault that the oft-delayed “When Fish Ride Bicycles” languished in record label jail, or that acts such as Odd Future have stolen their hipster rap mojo. They’re as good — and pretty much the same — as they ever were, dogged revivalists repackaging beloved 1980s rap tropes into smart, excessively gentle joints that sound only as new as they need to.
The Kids (Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish, who haven’t been kids for years) end “Fish” with a summer jam called (what else?) “Summer Jam,” a sepia-toned slow-burner that, it’s easy to imagine, might blast from front stoops in some Spike Lee movie about Bed-Stuy in the ’80s.
Mellow by nature, the Kids play it cool, spending most of the disc trying not to sound like they’re trying too hard. Sometimes this comes off as chill (as on the effortlessly great, Bun B-guesting “Gas Station”), other times as merely enervated.Rocks and Inglish perk up considerably in the presence of the disc’s many guest stars: Drummer Travis Barker enlivens “Sour Apples”; Asher Roth and Chip tha Ripper make “Roll Call” sound positively snappy; and by the time Ghostface Killah guests on “Penny Hardaway,” the Kids can barely contain themselves, though he doesn’t do much more than show up.
— Allison Stewart
Recommended Tracks: “Penny Hardaway,” “Gas Station,” “Swimsuits”