The Barry Brothers - Yawnin' in the Dawnin'

Purveyors of self-declared "folk from the sticks of Western New York," the Barry Brothers, comprising actual brothers Patrick, Benjamin and Bradford Barry, offer up a strong, charming and catchy, if not entirely revolutionary collection of tracks with their new EP Yawnin' in the Dawnin'. The boys bring with them a powerful sound and a solid choke-hold on pop songwriting combined with the kind of down-home honest, clear, yarn-spinnin', country folk stylings one might expect from the album's title. The beauty of Yawnin' in the Dawnin' is that is balances tongue-in-cheek musical frolicking with heavier, more serious experimentation. It's in this way that the Barry Brothers can hold onto some of the roots of folk while also calling out and back to the Allman Brothers (not used as an example purely because of their "brotherness") and even a little bit of the pop sensibility of bands like Coldplay, Kings of Leon and even older heroes like Neil Young and CCR.

The opening track is entirely a capella, introducing the folk-historical roots for the band and getting the impetus for the title out of the way first thing. It's a strong opener, demonstrating not only the brother's chemistry as singers, but also the endearingly off harmony harmonics. There's no overproduced vocals here, or intricately layered effects to smooth out the edges. In a way "Yawnin' in the Dawnin'" declares those ideas unnecessary. This is folk. And it's back to basics. "For Your Own Good" falls in at track two. It's a catchy, by-the-book pop song. And while it is enjoyable and memorable, with a chorus that gets stuck easily in your head, it feels too big. Especially in contrast to the stark, voices only, narrative opener. "Carnival(e)" does a fine job of correcting that tonal shift by reining everything back in. Darker and building only for the choruses, it's a song that feels less radio-friendly, and less aware that it should be, but also has most of the ingredients to arrive on the radio. More on the side of rock, again, than folk. "Three Years in Carolina," is the strongest song on the EP. Using carefully layered vocals and the brotherly harmony, it's also lighter on guitar, feeling like a song that might happen in a fine saloon. The lyrics here are very pure, operating on the storytelling interests we are used to. It's also the most throwback-esque song. And it has something that is elemental to this genre, fine, lamentative, fucking harmonica! And the line "I got a place I'll get high every day." Winner.

"Drink One More" has a great storytelling idea too. Referencing Ali v. Frazier and human frailty. It's a drinking anthem with a casual drum line, a subtle guitar drizzle, and the kind of personal touch (as each brother sings about his birthday) that you can only really get with folk. This may be the purest folk song, though it becomes knowingly self-aware at one point, to the point of the distraction. "Love Something Too Much" has a Springsteen-like storytelling quality, and feels vaguely like Cee Lo's "Fuck You," but it never feels like it gains a melodic momentum. The chorus, layering cries of disappointment, is fully formed, but the verses can be rambling, trying to tell too many things. The song builds, and builds, but never feels like it boils over. "Great Unknown" is a stronger track, though. It's very honest. It's very direct. It is folk narrative meets modern world. And it also blends in a little bit of pastoral keys to fill out the ballad.

With Yawnin' in the Dawnin' you get 7 solid tracks that feature clear, linear lyrical schemes and well-honed verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-verse-chorus songs. While the album isn't perfect, often relying on cliches about pop-folk and soft-ish rock, it is heavy on heart, which makes it respectable. You will find at least two or three songs here that stick in your head. And repeat listening value is moderately high. The Barry Brothers are vocally strong, nearly coffee shop folk-rockabilly troubadours, and ultimately, sturdy, honest, pop songwriters. Listen to the album below. And visit the band's website.

Band press kits
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St. Vincent - "Cruel" Music Video

Let's keep the creepy-yet-undeniably-excellent train a rollin' with the brand new "Cruel" video by the beautiful and hyper-talented Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent). As the title suggests, it's a track about cruelty, love, loss and many of the usual sonic-friendly tropes. The music is just as unsettling and crunchy as any St. Vincent fan wants, and finds Clark's voice and lyrical composition in top form. And wow, how about getting buried alive. After being kidnapped and forced to be the "mom" in a strangely-too-normal-looking family. With lush imagery and defiant, yet super catchy sounds, "Cruel" raises the anticipation bar for Strange Mercy another notch. Watch it here, from the original by the Huffington Post.

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St. Vincent - "Surgeon"

St. Vincent's new album Strange Mercy is probably my most anticipated of the year, and is high on the lists for many other music maniacs. The release of "Surgeon," a beautiful, even higher-concept, brilliantly complex track that is both haunting and instantly catchy seems to point to the vast potential of the coming album. This is a song that seduces just as it keeps you on edge. It is brilliant. But, don't take my word for it... And, please, don't tell LeVar Burton and the rest of the Reading Rainbow people that I borrowed their catchphrase. Now listen!

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The Weeknd - Thursday

Aren't we all so blessed by the glory of free shit!? "Shit" in this sense is far from and not even remotely pejorative. "Shit" in this instance is a new album, er, "mixtape" by The Weeknd, also known by the given name Abel Tesfaye, the phenomenal indie-dance-new-R&B singer from Ontario. Anyone even vaguely familiar with House of Balloons, the first such mixtape, and one of the most memorable genre-blending pieces of pure joy to grace the year 2011, Thursday, the second part of The Weeknd's intended mixtape trilogy, is another powerful step in the right direction. Tesfaye's reliable and passionate vocals perfectly complement the often grungy, post-dubstep electronic work. In short, or maybe in long, this music is the embodiment of man-and-machine. And, fully risking the possibility of saying something hilariously alarmist: This could be the very beginning of the singularity. That's the one where the robots start eating our brains, right? Or guitars start hitting werewolves with those inflatable hammers that have a squeaky toy in them? Or something.

Thursday opens with the gorgeous subtle crackle of a record needle finding its groove. And in large part, that is what "Lonely Star" does, offering a lush, complex song construction that sets the tone for the album. We find our beat. We feel the slow but determined bass blips and crunches. And we get full wind of Tesfaye's voice, starting syrupy and mysterious and becoming progressively more immediate and vulnerable with time. It's an immaculate start. "Life of the Party" loads a vibrant, cinematic quality into the album using a haunting melody, an uneasy beat and echoing, almost blaming choral vocals. The thunder and lightning quality to the percussion adds to the general sense of danger, too. It's a potently evocative track. Titular track "Thursday" swings to the spacier end of the spectrum. And also to a much sweeter, more traditional R&B style. We are treated here to something that seeps sincerity and urgency. The Weeknd plays with our emotions here too, but does so carefully, nimbly plucking at our heartstrings while simultaneously lulling us into a state of security. It's a potent mix.

"The Zone" features a similar sincerity and slow-burning groove. At this point we realize that Thursday is an album of pleas, dreams, and careful deceptions. "The Birds Part 1" is a powerful march and rallying cry. It's a song that fights against love. It's decries love. But not Love, only the individual love that The Weeknd can give. It's a brilliant idea, that we have the power to make one fall in love with us, unbeknownst to our efforts. This is possible the best track on the album. "The Birds Part 2" continues the theme, using the same lyrics, but spreading it over a much sadder backing track and slower beat. In "Part 1" the refrain is warning, but by "Part 2" it's a tragedy. "Rolling Stone" uses a pleasing guitar intro, an acoustic repetition that lays the backing for a song of street life, sadness, addiction and disappointment. It's an amazing vulnerable song, including the line "I'll keep on smoking til I can't hit another note," which serves only to haunt the listener additionally. This is tragedy continued, but outside of romantic love. "Gone" is crunchy and subtle, slow and lilting. But, the real treat is the slight build, one that ends in escalating lyrical frustration and a pounding drumbeat. The brief closer "Heaven or Las Vegas" has a distinctly "call to arms" design blended into its rousing beat and somewhat simple, relaxed melody. Around 1:48 in, it builds into a grunting guitar riff that is amazing.

Did I mention that this album is free? Oh I did. Well, it's free. And it's amazing that such a thing can happen. I suggest that you download it now. And when given the chance, see The Weeknd live, making the completed trilogy fully and delightfully possible. Great music deserves our support, otherwise we all turn to black and white... not even the cool hipster sepia tone. Or you can stream it below too.

The Weeknd Thursday by the weeknd thursday
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Dirty Gold - ROAR EP

Like the endless crashing waves that strike a beach, so there seems to be a plethora of beach-core-surf-rock-island-beat-samba bands. As infestations go, this is a good one. Ask the Egyptians when frogs and locusts tore through their fair farm zones (according to that famous storybook), or ask any of the people, and you know one even if you don't know you know, who have been afflicted with bedbugs. We'd all of us take the hundred odd summertime solace and joy of a great, rolling beat-heavy, slow-dance, mellow-out, get stoned kind of album over just about any other epidemic. And that's not even to add in some delightful shoe-gazey qualities either. ROAR is an EP, nearly an album in its delightful theme and body, by Dirty Gold. It came out early this year, on the Spring end of things, in April, but it has a place just about any time you can find it. A solid, thoroughly enjoyable collection of poppy, but zone-out ready indie tracks, ROAR should have found its place into your summer rotation by now. And if it hasn't, there's still about a month left before the SCOURGE OF AUTUMN takes these hot days away. Stream it below, at Dirty Gold's website, and then buy it. It's only $4.99!

Opening on the brief, elegant and crooning "North," Dirty Gold seem to beckon us away from the powerful and beating heat of summer time, flying us on a gull wing to a cooler place. The cooler place is adorned with bright guitars, outfitted in pleasant, charming and fun jangling riffs, and keeps us afloat and moving with bounding xylophonic/steel drum sounds. The beauty, for those of you, and me, who thought, "oh more Vampire Weekend" is that the vocals here have far more of a Paul Simon Graceland quality. And, the smoothness and vulnerability in that singing, makes it all seem far more real. The winner of the EP is track two, "California Sunrise." It's the kind of song that like Passion Pit's "Sleepyhead," defines an EP and sets a path for a band. In short, ROAR could be the next Chunk of Change. "California Sunrise," though, just emanates a vulnerability and kindness that shows a sweet and romantic view of love, quoting, "where our love ends my end begins." That's a fucking beautiful lyric. "Sea Hare" keeps this sincerity going. If there's a fault in this album, it's that it is so pure. Often, indie rock consumers, especially when dealing with a well-tilled genre like this one, demand some sarcasm, irony or self-awareness. Instead, Dirty Gold give us quality, beautiful, solid music, straight from the most technicolor of Brian Wilson's daydreams.

Amid some sampled tracks of rushing water and ringing phone, ROAR stays pretty fully attached to finely crafted, melodic guitar work and beat-keeping, flourish-light drums. On "Quiet Life," the lyrics deal with misunderstanding, giving up, starting again, and finding a path. The music wanders in a similar rut to the poetic content, but never to full detriment. It's a great track. It's a pure track. And it's largely a pastoral track. The closer, "Overboard" ups the mix and adds a quality, dreamy wall of sound to the situation. Echoing vocals add to the theme, but may have been a bit too much. Still, it's a brilliant song. And it has an expert grasp not only of classic pop-rock, but of the genre from which it borrows. This is possibly the best way to spend 20-plus minutes of your life. Unless of course you have a partner with whom to carnally express those 20-minutes. But then, listen to this while you do. It's pretty romantic.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #15

The penultimate to DRIVING podcast! Number 15. Holy gods. Oh... oh... Shit. There's talk of the incredible film franchise the Gremlins. Jared gets angry. But, we all come together to WILL Mikey to one day know the gentle, sensual, coital touch of a woman. With limited ado, it's Jared Reads the News. Unlike last week, there's actually some news. And then the boys do the bit. It's delicious... with background streetcar ambiance. The glory... and horror of some all-year-all-the-time Burning Man. Deserts... Mel Gibson... poorly dubbed Australian action film dialogue! Mikey has a great idea... seriously. Post-pre-anti-contra-Irony! And that's it. The whole podcast ends there.

But then it doesn't. Because they play some tunes. Car chase tunes. Tunes by which one might travel speedy distances wielding a gun and a gorgeous lady. Nic Cage is coming for you. His hair is a bird. There's some Rat Facts backlash. The prize... went to Mikey's roommate. Is there some nepotism afoot? Or roommatepotism? Dicks! And then... Girl problems. GIRL PROBLEMS! And Jared and Mikey wed, come apart at the seams, and divorce, all on good terms because each of them get half of the other person's stuff. It's like a trade. And then they play more music. But this time, neither Jared nor Mikey like each others songs! They hate each other. So much! Jared's dad! Mikey's old apartment! STORIES that will make your funny bone flip out with orgasmic jubilation! Mikey chats us up with some taxidermy too! It's a special, wonderful, ramblingly charm-heavy, gut-busting, ass-blasting, thigh-mastering It's A Thing! And for the last time, it's just It's A Thing! not The It's A Thing! No "the!" Cut that shit out!

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Beirut - The Rip Tide

Zach Condon is a compositional genius. Of course, I'm only parroting the sea of Beirut lovers around the interweb, regular web, and globe. And parroting in this case with full, unadulterated honesty. Beirut is incredible. And after the diversion (a beautiful one) of March of the Zapotec, etc., this band/project/concept/amazingness returns with something incredible that leans toward the form of The Flying Cub Cup, but also strides ever forward into a world of infinite sonic promise. The Rip Tide, like so many albums released this year, has some '80s vibing all over it. Even Beirut is not immune, as synth-y tones occasionally populate the tracks here. But rather than emulating Ric Ocasek or Bryan Ferry, et al., Condon keeps the baroque majesty of the band's ethos intact, letting the horns and choral vocals to the heavy lifting, while using those flecks of nostalgia as a garnish. I'll get this out of the way now... you have no reason not to listen to this album. Your life will be better for it. Your day will be better for it. And who knows, it may increase the size of a certain part of a man's anatomy... (probably not).

"A Candle's Fire" is strong, catchy and pastoral, everything you'd want from Beirut, either as a long-time fan or as a late adopter. But the real greatness comes in when "Santa Fe," a set of bounding keys and pounding drums turn into a horn laden, memorable, forever LOVABLE track that will keep your feet moving and your dreams soaring. Condon and the boys dial it back to a more waltzy love song with "East Harlem," with lyrics that set a clear stage of place and time, namely "waiting for the night to fall." Thunderous drums and beautiful horn accents keep the song lively and energized. With "Goshen" we feel instant sadness, instant quiet and instant ease. Delicate piano and Condon's voice usher us into a story of sacrifice and mistakes. A slow march comes in, with funereal horns. It's elegant and pristine and devastating in a quiet way. Violins and strings blend us away from that sadness into the far more spritely and excited "Payne's Bay." It's a song about getting away from a town. It's about getting away from winter. It's about getting away from the end... or wanting to. The title track "The Rip Tide" is epic. Entirely, undeniably epic. A start with strings and rattling drums, a subtle looping, percussive, electronic tone, it's brilliance.

The jaunty "Vagabond" opens with motivated keys and a gorgeous horn riff that feels as if it were pulled from the soundtrack of some movie that exists outside of time. Condon croons like a mutha on this song. And his lyrics about wandering, somewhat happily aimless, nicely contrast the comforting structure of the track. Everything calms back down with the pastoral "The Peacock," which combines beauty and social commentary to illustrate the passing of time, a sort of death of time, and a great return to the beginning. The beautiful chorus of vocals makes the track feel deep and complex while remaining so intimate. And the closer, "Port of Call" lifts the spirits with some charming xylophone and calm strumming. It feels like the acoustic version of the song you might know one way that closes a show and leaves the crowd in awe. When the keys come in, the song flourishes. It's a great way to close out the album on an optimistic, but measured, intelligent note.

You can listen to The Rip Tide in its entirety via NPR's First Listen here. You can also stream it up below. But, you should really get this, and toss some dime and nickels toward Beirut and Zach Condon. Art that is this well executed, glorious and beautiful needs to get some cash monies in return.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #14

After a short break, two weeks during which our hearts only grew fonder, the boys, Jared and Mikey, move from their studio in the Alps to a new one in beautiful Paris, France. Jared had a birthday. And to him we say lovingly, "Fuck you, Jared. Fuck your handsome face." He's 78 years young. Well, no, let's not be silly. He's 84, but he doesn't look a day over 78. The boys talk costumed flag-wavers and then Jared plays some music close to my heart, music by Ted Leo, who is not at all involved directly in either of our blood-moving organs, but are super dear to us. Oh man, Jared and Mikey need a sponsor, who will tolerate their need to get pumped! There's an It's A Thing! Sings! musical not just in the works, but touring in a dingy warehouse with a sign that says "Theetrr" written in crayon, near you. It's pretty great. Except for the pain and nose bleeds it causes. 1 in 3 viewers will die. The other "It's A Thing" is gone from the internet. Mikey moved, but that the first rule of noose ownership is that you've gotta put up one of those "hang in there, kitty" posters in the place before you set the noose out. It adds drama and inspires. And POP PUNK! POP PUNK! POP PUNK! Jared starts babbling about the Turkey Trot... And that's all in the first 20 minutes! What would you pay for this kind of entertainment? Wait. Don't answer yet... No, seriously. Quiet down. Here... comes... RAT FACTS! And haircuts... and the magic of conversations with new people. The sadness of corporate mascots... standing and dancing in the sun... And Jared's job history. It's RESUME READING ACTION right here on It's A Thing! the Podcast that wants to take you out to dinner and won't try anything until after you finish that third glass of wine.

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August 6: Ben Sollee

Photo Courtesy of Jon Vanderweit
Save perhaps Ted Leo, I've met no other musician who is as humble, affable and genuine as Ben Sollee. Following last night's Larimer Lounge show, during which Sollee's very particular blend of soul, R&B, blues, jazz, classical and rock (all played on a cello) rocked the house, we were lucky enough to meet Sollee. And as his honest, humble, politically savvy and thoughtful lyrics would have you believe, he is a down-to-earth, kind human being. Hell, he let me, overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the show, give him a somewhat prolonged guy hug to thank him. Sollee's touring violinist and bass guitarist, Phoebe Hunt also did us the honor. As did drummer Jordan Ellis. This is the glory and grace of a smaller venue, but it's also the greatness of musicians who are happy to play music and who show that kind of fulfillment on their faces. But, right now, I'm flipping the show upside down and giving out the lowdown on the end. What about the beginning?

After we filed into the Larimer, for a show that was less than packed, but really, given the temperature of the venue and its size, that's probably for the best, we took seats at the bar and waited, drinking PBRs and mixed drinks as showgoers are wont to do. And then, as Sollee came out, we shuffled into the main room and were able to squirrel our way into some great standing room. And then Sollee just crushed everything. As did Hunt. And Ellis. The cello is this amazing, but semi-forgotten instrument that gets relegated to high school bands or lofted to symphony orchestras, and what Ben Sollee can do with his, just using fingers, a bow and a couple of effects pedals is nothing short of spectacular. So, since Sollee doesn't have a massive following, at least, I imagine some readers are mere seconds from clicking away to another review, or heaven forbid, another site, here're a couple of songs.

Photo Courtesy of Jon Vanderweit
What you end up getting is a soulful singer-songwriter who can do just about anything with one instrument. If you want, and you do because we did, a raucous, bass-heavy buildup, then you got it because Sollee will grind away staccato on the low strings. Or he will soften everything and the cello will sound like a banjo or a ukulele or an acoustic guitar. Sollee plays a broad spectrum of his portfolio, of which, I'll admit I'm not fully aware, but he does play "Panning For Gold," "Bury Me With My Car," "Bible Belt," and "Electrified" (thank you grooveshark!) I've gone ahead place those plus one below in a stream so everyone can get the idea. He closes the show, pre-encore, with an incredible cover of "Wild World" by Cat Stevens. Of course, there's nothing quite like the experience of seeing this go down live, and hearing the power of unmixed, or at least live mixed music. Between songs Sollee's affability pours from the stage like honey. He tells us the story of his tour, currently a bike tour, whereby he tows his cello and other equipment with drummer Jordan Ellis pulling the drums and other tour members assisting. He also discusses Oxfam.org, political causes and tells a story of biking through East Wilmington, DE, a place in rough shape as I have seen, and simply recounts that a little boy nearly jumped on their tour had his mother not called him back home. Also, he used the phrase "If I had my druthers" with sincerity. Extra points from me.

Photo Courtesy of Jon Vanderweit
The point of all of this gushing, I guess, is that Ben Sollee, in addition to playing an incredible show, also has a heart for causes and a mind for connection with people. He talked with us for ten or fifteen minutes after the show, but the kicker is that I felt like we had to decide to leave to end the conversation. Neither Ben, nor Phoebe, nor Jordan wanted us to go away, they'd've talked with us for hours (maybe one hour) if we just hung around. Also, when a drunken ass-clown, who apparently had been giving the band shit throughout the show lashed out a final time when they returned from encore, Ben Sollee, who had just picked up a banjo for the first time all night, sat looking sincerely hurt and then put the banjo back saying simply that he knows one guy isn't all of us, but that anyone who'd mess with his band isn't something he'd get behind. And for a moment, it seemed like they wouldn't play anymore. Luckily, Sollee said, "Screw it. Play it out," and they did. Just an incredible show. Pick up or download Ben Sollee's tunes through his website, and go to Oxfam.org if you wanna make a donation to a cause he loves.

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Eleanor Friedberger - Last Summer

Eleanor Friedberger earned the pedigree for solo success long ago. Throughout 9 years and 9 albums as The Fiery Furnaces, she and her brother Matt have demonstrated an acuity and lust for the weird, while still maintaining a hand on the pulse of pop music and classic composition. Now, on Last Summer, Eleanor goes her own way and compiles a set of 10 tracks that feels both familiar and pleasantly mellow. The casual, cavalier approach to composition and pacing that we've seen in flashes from The Fiery Furnaces remains, but Eleanor also manages to hold onto pop and genre, bending them in more subtle, still accessible and pleasing experiments. Specifically, "The Inn of the Seventh Ray" reads very strongly like one of the epic medley tracks from recent Furnaces albums, but it also never breaks down into brutal madness. Instead, it progresses much the way we believe a song should. Eleanor Friedberger's songs are big, lush and beautiful. They lack abrasiveness, for the most part, and more often grind along as streams of consciousness. Of course, Last Summer, is excellent, loaded with callbacks not only to her band, but to the traditional progressions and gorgeous arrangements of blues, rock and jazz from the past.

The opening track, "My Mistakes" sets the tone for an album that embraces genre and takes a hopeful, if aware view of life in its lyrics. The track really is so good that saying more about it would only make it sound less amazing than it is, so here's a video:

Next up is "Inn of the Seventh Ray," a track that is reminiscent of Furnaces stuff, but also calls to mind the lyrical idiosyncrasies that makes Eleanor Friedberger so interesting. Her stilted, breathy vocals combined with the melodic, story-telling nature of the song makes for something like "My Egyptian Grammar" or "Cabaret of the Seven Devils" from Widow City. "Heaven" slides into a more conventional rock/folk ballad narrative, painting images of heaven in a pile of elegant lyrics and soft-spoken vocals. And "Scenes from Bensonhurst" parades her gorgeous, syrupy voice and her poetic free-verse writing style. What is beautiful here, and throughout the album, is that a combination of piano and energetic guitar and electronic work, with vocal looping, among other things comes together to very nearly understate every song. This is an album that speaks softly and carries a big stick, but it's also an album loaded with insights about life, growing up and other philosophical concepts. Essentially, Friedberger takes complex ideas and makes them feel not only accessible, but elegantly simple, leaving the listener with a calm "a ha!" moment.

"Roosevelt Island" picks up the pace, grinding away with some funky guitars and frenetic and harried lyrics, the kind we Fiery Furnaces fans love. And then "Glitter Gold Year" takes on blues and Motown elements, lead with the lyrics "It's a glitter gold year, two thousand and ten," backed by stomping pianos and thumping bass lines. But "One-Month Marathon" may be the best song, for its slow burn and contemplatively creepy overtones involving a child jealous of a new sibling, among other things. And there's subtle guitar work and unnerving sounds to cap the track. "I Won't Fall" is a strong song, in a very different vein from the tracks that precede it, but its breakdown is exceptional. And "Owl's Head Park" takes the long story-telling aspect of her songwriting to its extreme, beautifully. The instrumentation is chaotic and unpredictable, but still desirable and accessible, including of staggered call-and-response. The closer, "Early Earthquake" takes on a more conventional love song design, with quick stroke, clean electric guitar and click-clacking, clapping percussion.

I've stopped handing out grades and scores, after a short experiment with that, but Last Summer deserves the special recognition of receiving a 38.5/44 on the Arbitrary Grading Assessment Numerical Representation scale (or AGANR scale). Listen to it below on he olde stream. Buy it from Friedberger's Merge Records page and love it, over and over and over again, the way it deserves.

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