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Fiona Apple’s name has become synonymous with independent music as we know it today—since her auspicious debut in 1996, the singer has become a figurehead for the found music sound and a first-person, exceedingly personal style that continues today. However, Apple barely knows how much she has affected the genre; in a recent interview, she admitted that she doesn’t listen to new music, and has a famous distaste for social media and most modern technology. How, then, does an artist create a gorgeous album today without modern convenience? Apple gives us a crash course in honesty, vocals, and stripped-down music with her new release The Idler Wheel… and reminds fans of music just how little great music relies on technological crutches.
The album, properly known as The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (and inhale), is a beautiful piece of work characterized by its profound sadness. We hear it in Apple’s voice in the lilting “Left Alone”; we hear its direct address to ex-boyfriend Jonathan Ames in “Jonathan”; and as the album grows from slow lullaby (and current single) “Every Single Night” to its stirring conclusion, we hear about everything from failed relationships to endless piano riffs and the happy shouts of children. The drama is as high as any great pop album but grounds itself in genuine sentiment and talent.
Especially beautiful tracks “Werewolf” and the vocally astounding closing track “How Knife” stand out among the ten tracks in defining the familiar Fiona sound within the sometimes morbid, always honest bounds of The Idler Wheel… Her jazz-alternative vocal style fluctuates to the needs of each song, allowing long silences and a cappella where appropriate. Nothing on the album sounds thoroughly planned or over-produced, a testament to both Apple herself and new production collaborator Charley Drayton, who also serves as her touring drummer. After producing her first three albums with musician Jon Brion, this change of command can be heard, and it’s for the best. Perhaps most important of all, Apple relies on organic sound — piano, drum, and voice — to create her most bare-bone sound yet.
Recorded over several years, The Idler Wheel… covers a lot of Apple’s personal history, but one theme emerges even louder than its title — in “Left Alone”, a twisted ragtime tune, Apple asks “How can I ask anyone to love me when all I do is beg to be left alone?” Though their themes differ, this seems to be the problem she explores time and time again, and we never tire of hearing her search. Fiona Apple is and will always be an acquired taste, and she doesn’t compromise her sound to reign in the skeptics. From her distinct, confessional lyrics to her trademark lady-at-a-piano sound, The Idler Wheel… sums up the artist perfectly: this is who she is, and if you don’t like it, then you don’t have to listen.