Thursday, March 26, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Fiona Apple: Idler Wheel. . . .

This was originally posted on my Tumblr on June 20, 2012. 

Fiona Apple - Idler Wheel… .

In 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, The Rite of Spring, caused a riot in Paris. The music was jarring for it’s time, incorporating African rhythms and dissonance that hadn’t been heard before. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that music could cause such violent reactions among high brow audiences, but it’s apparently not that rare. A quick search on Wikipedia will reveal a section simply called Classical Music Riots. The point is, art is powerful. And I think that’s a good place to start in with my thoughts on the new Fiona Apple album, The Idler Wheel… .
If you didn’t like her last album, Extraordinary Machine, you probably won’t like this either, but I think then you’re missing out on something that doesn’t happen often these days. This is art on a level that most musicians do not even think about (maybe Bjork does), and I’m not saying that to disparage other musicians. This is the type of thing you’d imagine Fiona would play at some little cafe in the 20’s where members of the Algonquin Round Table would judge her loudly, honestly and even harshly at times. People would yell at her in anger and disgust, some would cry, some would laugh and eventually fights would break out. But all along, there would be Fiona, on stage, still playing, still singing, still baring her soul and confronting expectations.
So, yes, the album is challenging. She has always struck me as the girl at the party who sits in the corner, openly disdainful of what’s going on, seriously observing, judging, remembering, just to later put it back in your ear holes. Basically, Dorothy Parker or Sylvia Plath. Her lyrical honesty is obvious enough, but the musical and emotional truth is just as genuine. No matter how complicated the orchestration, there’s always a sense of rawness to the music on this album, like she’s constantly working out demons of one form or another. And this is not to say that the album doesn’t go somewhere that’s ultimately melodic. But before we get there, we listen as she sings complex melodies over even more complex music. Slowly, but surely, though, there is a clear progression towards something, with the last few songs demonstrating more conventional interactions between melody and accompaniment. The stand out track, for my money, is actually the last song, “Hot Knife” which incorporates many of the musical ideas glimpsed in the previous tracks, and turns them into a Phillip Glass like kaleidoscope of melody, harmony and rhythm. 
The album really seems to work best as a whole. It’s not something I’ll likely listen to often, but it’s something I would consider special and important. And as pretentious as this write up may have come across, the beauty of the album is that it doesn’t feel that way at all, even though it’s on a level that could be considered quite high brow. But enough talk, just listen.

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