Currently Listening to…

by Cate

The Idler Wheel…

After seven years of anticipation, Fiona Apple released her fourth record two weeks ago. The album, which is (partially) titled The Idler Wheel is Apple’s most sophisticated effort to date and will likely end up at the top of critics’ “Best of…” lists for 2012.

When Apple emerged in 1996 with her début album, Tidal, she was the youngest member of the music world’s glut of female singer-songwriters (most of whom would languish as one-hit wonders once the “trendiness” of their genre subsided). Songs such as the single “Criminal” (and its now-infamous music video) cast Apple as the thinking man’s jailbait–a term that would make her a lightening rod for controversy and pigeonhole her for the remainder of the decade. As tales of her tempestuous, petulant performances swirled throughout the music world, journalists began dissecting her weight and playing armchair psychologist to her apparent emotional instability. Her follow-up album, When the Pawn… was a commercial disappointment and six years elapsed before the release of the stellar Extraordinary Machine.

Extraordinary Machine represented a dramatic leap forward for Apple artistically. Apple possesses the uncommon ability to open herself up and allow her deepest thoughts to bleed out at her audience’s feet without delving into self-pity or vanity. With Extraordinary Machine, she successfully melded her confessional lyrics with avant jazz, vaudeville and traditional pop stylings but the record was plagued by production-related drama, label meddling and eventually, a leak of the unmastered tracks. The version of the album the masses heard was very good but it could be alternately uneven and claustrophobic. As the listener, you could hear the tension and labor behind the music–and not necessarily in a positive way.

The Idler Wheel… builds upon the foundation laid by its predecessor and refines its stylistic elements. As always, Apple’s smokey alto is the record’s highlight. Time has endowed Apple with a stronger grasp on her capabilities and she uses this record to test her boundaries. She hiccups, belts, croons, whispers and scat-sings at varying points; the sheer breadth of the work is enough to render her utterly peerless–which is to say nothing of her lyricism and brilliant composition. Honestly, this post could stretch on for about five more paragraphs wherein I gush incessantly about Fiona Apple’s genius but really, you should just see for yourself and buy a copy of The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. (Say that five times fast!)