Fiona Apple's The Idler Wheel: A First Listen

Categories: First Listens

"Periphery"

More tough piano curlicues (or ostinatos, whatever they're called). She calls the periphery idiots. The chewy, round coda begs for more comparing to tUnE-yArDs. And Ani DiFranco. Has the folk-punk godmother been brought up in any of these discussions yet? Her jazzy, stop-start vocal freestyling has unquestionably influenced the swing of these women. Hipsters don't give her enough respect.

"Regret"

Actually, standouts are kind of odd to single out, indeed. All these tracks sound like such sketches, or like you're eavesdropping on a small room of musicians frustratedly trying to land on notes they've only recently memorized. It's a nice feel -- there's definitely a breathing pattern to this album that hasn't been heard in Big Deal music for a while. It's also as far as AutoTune can get from the current charts. This is both the weakest track here and the longest, but there is a repeated prizewinner about "the hot piss from your mouth."

"Anything We Want"

It's odd how little texture is on this record -- I only noticed when I heard the bopping hand drums and chinking silverware on this penultimate track, which both feels like the catchiest tune on the record and like I'll forget the melody immediately after it ends. It's a covertly endearing song, filtering the idea of sex as the freedom of adult privilege. She and her paramour take off their clothes, kiss, and then triumphantly "we can do anything we want." And she namechecks UFC.

"Hot Knife"

Wow, I'd love to see this one performed. It's a marvel of vocal dexterity -- she nearly scat-raps her way through the whole thing, before harmonies (!!) stack and layer and loop like multiple broken records at once. The only backing is a drum that sounds like it's about to signal a war between tribes. And the central metaphor is more boyfriend combat, albeit in the goofy, nicely gender-reversed analogy of knife (her) and pat of butter (him). By far the most experimental thing she's ever released. Guess who it sOuNdS LiKe?

Is The Idler Wheel the best album I've heard in 2012? Probably not, though it does sound like the one I'll still be rooting for at year's end after Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective have thrown their respective hats in the ring.

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