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Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel...
You have to hand it to the thirty-four year old, quirky-as-quirky-can-be New York native. It’s been seven years since the release of her last album, Extraordinary Machine. Since then, she’s managed to create a twenty-three-word album title that actually has a ring to it. Impressive, Fiona; we’ve missed you and your offbeat whimsies.
Selling almost 3 million copies nearly sixteen years ago, Apple’s debut, Tidal, was greeted with open arms. Bets hedged that in the summer of ’96, nearly every young woman listening to that album, at one point found herself alone in her room, wishing she too, could be a bad girl - enthralled with the pop misfit’s media scandal of a music video for Criminal.
Men, insomnia, relationships, sex, hate, love, emotions; her subjects came in the form of dark tales with minor chords and out-of-place compositions – opening the doors for the pop scene to briefly experience music in a new light.
It didn’t take long before Fiona was labelled as a bit bananas though; between her tendency to flail about on stage and her numerous public statements, slamming the music industry and society at large. But then again, isn’t that why we liked her in the first place? It was her beautifully brassy attempt to create honest music, and speak honestly about that music, that left us feeling so weak at the knees.
We can say today that it still doe; Apple’s go-with-the-flow approach to making music, hiatus a plenty, has its own rewards. And, deep breath, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of a Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do speaks highly of that. The album includes 10 new tracks and a five-track bonus set, live from the SXSW festival earlier this year.
The music still contains that emotion-driven nature, which isn’t always pretty; it is abrupt and intrepid in true Fiona style. Somewhere along the line though, a refined voice has come in. Vulnerable yet controlled. Opening the album, 'Every Single Night’s' cheery percussion and playful rhythm bounces along and scoops you in and a greater poet is heard: “Every single night, I endure the flight/Of little wings of white-flamed, butterflies in my brain/These ideas of mine, percolate the mind/Trickle down the spine, swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze”.
As the album goes on, the piano livens up as her wails grow larger and shrink back down again. 'Hot Knife' ends the album with vocals and drums alone being looped, one over the other, as she riffs about the excitement of romance – all while being jazzy and smooth. It is indeed, hot - even if she is singing about butter.
Album opener ‘San Angeles’ will get feet moving and booties shaking, but the rest of the album is decidedly more post-rock oriented. The influences of Pink Floyd only really make a grand appearance on psychedelic tune ‘Lunar Drift’, with its spooky synths and echoing bass line.
‘The Eliminator’ takes the listener back to the eighties again, as the repetitive electronic beat that is used sounds a lot like the 8-bit sounds that were the backdrop for many early eighties video games. Imagine the aforementioned desert wasteland turning 8-bit coloured.
The eighties also dominate in the strummed intro to ‘Martin Rev’, evoking memories of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. You’d almost think the guys of Maserati had wished they were making music a few decades ago.
American blues rock duo, the Black Keys, released their eighth studio album in May of this year, backed by long-time collaborator and producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton.
Having debuted at number one on both US and UK charts, Turn Blue encapsulates a very broody feel and strong garage and prog-rock influences, shying away from the hook based style of El Camino and adopts a darker, rawer attitude with banging drums and Jimi Hendrix inspired guitar tones.
The album’s first single, ‘Fever’, is a very mainstream in both its arrangement, choice of synthesizer sound and general feel of the song. The second single, ‘Turn Blue’, on the other hand, while fairly simple and following one solid structure throughout with Dan Auerbach’s drone palm-muted strumming layered under small blues licks, it will definitely make your head bob.
The rest of the album goes on to demonstrate the evolution of the Black Keys; opening track, Weight of Love, has heavy progressive and psychedelic influences, subtle at first, but undeniable by the end. Next comes ‘In Time’, with a super catchy guitar line, a new high pitched vocal approach and heavy yet subtle bass synths.
The above is then contrasted against the gritty and raw ‘It’s Up to You Now’ with banging drums from Patrick Carney and overdriven guitars and bass lines reminiscent of the rawness of Hendrix’s tone, combined with a very noticeable Doors influence in syncopating vocal lines with snare fills.
On ‘10 lovers’, the band pursues a different inspiration, placing a dance-ish bass line against a straight four drum line giving the song a slight disco groove, which is expanded on with the introduction of the synth line.
As the album progresses to the last two tracks, ‘In Our Prime’ and ‘Gotta Get Away’, you get a very different feel to the album. The former is much slower than the rest of the album, employs darker lyrics, a Hammond organ line and a pretty tasteful overdrive and wah-layered guitar solo reminiscent of early rock band guitarists like Joe Perry and Jimmy Page of Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin respectively.
The closing track, ‘Gotta Get Away’, is much more upbeat and goofy, showing the fun side of the same two friends jamming since they dropped out of college, ending the album on a positive note.
The overall diversity within Turn Blue is very interesting; while fans of the Black Keys from their earlier days might expect more lead guitar work, the Keys make up for it in song writing and experimentation. With so many of the mainstream bands and music groups producing music that is strictly radio friendly and less appealing to the more dedicated music fans, it’s refreshing to see a band that can strike a balance between both.