Thursday, July 19, 2012

Album Review: Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel... (2012)

Fiona Apple's brutal honesty can be summed up in one lyric that she keeps howling on "Every Single Night," the introductory song to "The Idler Wheel..." (there's more to that album title, but I'm not attempting to type that all out,):
"Every single night's a fight with my brain."

And because of this honesty she possesses and that she is able to express the borderline insanity that we all feel within ourselves, Apple is probably one of the most universally relatable musicians of our time, music genres be damned. Rappers love her. Jazz enthusiasts love her. Even the teenage girls working at your local ice cream shop blasting Ke$ha, are secretly jamming out to "Fast as You Can" in their cars. Apple has been MIA for SEVEN years. She posts on her website she's making an album one day and the music news websites go mad! Who else in the music industry really has this same ability to cause such a stir? Not a lot of people.

"Every Single Night" is stripped down and unmerciful. It starts off really slow, with her voice as demure as can be, and ends with her on the verge of belting out what she's been trying to say throughout the song, "I just want to feel everything."

"Daredevil," "Valentine" and "Jonathan" come next with soul, passion and pure rawness. Instruments especially on these three songs are very minimal but this album in general doesn't really have too much going on except for Apple's voice and piano. That's why in "Werewolf" when there's a random 2 minute cry of kids whooshing over your speakers, you pay attention to it. "Valentine" is probably Apple's only successful attempt to a happ(ier) love song. She also pulls a Taylor Swift on "Jonathan" but trust me, it's done way more tactfully. It's about Jonathan Ames, creator of the HBO series Bored to Death and ex-boyfriend of Apple. It's not necessarily a "break-up" song but more so an homage to their relationship.

She looses a little steam in the middle, which is a common occurrence with Apple, to be honest. I think she has such a specific world, that to be involved in it for an entire album can get a little exhausting for the listener at times. But it's worth it for the end: "Anything We Want" and "Hot Knife." "Anything We Want" sounds the most reminiscent to Apple's previous work and more developed with instruments and harmonies. Not to mention, it holds a pretty catchy beat throughout the song, with an "I've Been Working on the Railroad" motif. "Hot Knife" is a song that will probably be what The Idler Wheel... will be remembered by. It's like the stars aligned the day Apple and her sister, Maude went into the studio to record this. This 4-minute round WILL blow your mind the first time you hear it. And I'm pretty certain of that. It almost sounds like they could have done this song in one take, both Apple and her sister just seem so determined to finish, almost like a competition.

Apple is consistently good throughout her career and it's because she doesn't care about genres - music boundaries don't consume her. Because like I said before, her fanbase is so vast, she herself might not know how to categorize herself. My only disappointment with The Idler Wheel... is that we'll probably have to wait another seven years for her to produce something. But like this record, it'll probably be worth the wait.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Album Review: Best Coast - The Only Place (2012)

Ever since Best Coast released their full length debut, Crazy For You, (Mexican Summer, 2010,) there are two things you know about Bethany Consentino and Bobb Bruno: 1) you never know who their drummer is at any given point and you probably never will and 2) their favorite music effect is reverberation (or “reverb”). Or should I say “was”? Because their sophomore album on Mexican Summer records, The Only Place, doesn’t have a trace of it.

When you first hear the album, you’re stunned, maybe even a little upset, if you’re a really big Best Coast fan. Consentino has said that she initially used the reverb to hide her voice because she always thought she wasn’t a very talented singer (Source) but if anything, it was their trademark and it enhanced their laid back, surf pop sound. Even though this is true, The Only Place has some staying power after the initial shock passes. It’s definitely something that will grow on you as you keep listening. You’ll be listening to “Up All Night” while brushing your teeth one day thinking, “that’s actually really good!”

The duo starts with an upbeat, but almost a little too upbeat, anthem for California with the same title as the album. It’s as catchy as “Call Me Maybe” but it’s probably the weakest song on the record. It’s very repetitive lyrically and instrumentally. The three songs after that, “Why I Cry,” “Last Year,” and “My Life,” are lyrically very impressive, for Consentino. You can tell she’s getting more comfortable with word play (“What a day this year has been/what a year this day has been” in “Last Year,”) and being more emotionally direct in her lyrics: “My mom was right/I don’t wanna die/I wanna live my life,” in “My Life.” A huge step forward for the band and a sign of Consentino being more confident.

The last half of the record have much more slower songs. “How They Want Me to Be,” “Dreaming My Life Away” and “Up All Night.” Since “How They Want Me to Be” and “Up All Night” were previously released as demos by Consentino and Bruno, it’s interesting to hear the final product and how different they are. This is probably due to working with Jon Brion, previous producer of Fiona Apple and Kanye West. The slower songs seem to be where you can detect his influence.

“Do You Love Me Like You Used To” is the highlight of this album. With reverb and other effects they’ve used in the past, it could have possibly been the highlight of Best Coast’s career, so far. When a song can represent everything that the band embodies, they seem to always be the best songs and “Do You Love Me Like You Used To” is one of those songs. “Boyfriend” on Crazy For You is another example of that. The only weakness of “Do You Love Me Like You Used To” is the repetition of the lyrics, like “The Only Place,” but the last verse almost makes up for it:

I’m always running down the street/I don’t remember what it means to be me/I’ve left all of that shit behind/But still I seem to loose my mind.

Haven’t we all felt that? The image Consentino puts into the listener’s head is so striking because it’s so raw and specific.

It will be interesting to see if Consentino and Bruno bring back reverb in their future music. For now though, it would be okay, I guess, if they didn’t bring it back. I guess. After listening to this for almost a month every day, it’s clear that Consentino and Bruno don’t have to duck under their reverb distortion pedals no longer. But reverb would still be nice.

Rating: 9 out of 10

x-posted on Scene Point Blank.