In case you can’t tell by my exclamation marks, I love this!!! Beautiful, slightly eerie folk duet by Fiona Apple and Andrew Bird.
2012 was a very good year for music. Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with enough albums for my year end list, this year the problem was narrowing down my choices. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, watch videos and/or download mp3s. Then comment with your favorite albums of the year.
“…This brilliant collection of songs beautifully marries modern indie-pop with retro rockabilly and soul. The sound is Sun Records meets Raising Sand.“
24. Dala: Best Day
“…Dala’s penchant for peppy country-pop harmonies and melodic folk-pop melodies fall somewhere between Lady Antebellum and Sylvie Lewis…sweet vocals, tinkling piano and buoyant strings…a pop culture cornucopia with references to everything from Shakespeare to Annie Hall“
“…Sylvie’s elegant voice and delicate melodies elevate even the most simple of tunes to a higher level…a jaunty fable of star-crossed love with just the softest, lightest hint of jazz“
“…I expect Eric McGrath won’t be Ireland’s best kept secret for long…McGrath’s intimate singing style and breezy, multi-instrumental compositions often fall somewhere between Bright Eyes and Xavier Rudd, which is an extremely interesting and unique place to be. But even such grand comparisons are tenuous, because Eric McGrath is definitely blazing a creative trail of his own.“
“…this gorgeous, classic folk song cycle sounds like it was recorded decades ago…the entire album is lovely and sure to be on my best of the year list.“
“…atmospheric electronics and somber melodies…brimming with all the emotions of a lifetime of regret and a heart full of love…a very pretty and innovative collection.“
“…Most of it is sheer, breathtaking brilliance…truly exquisite ballads…the spectacular far, far outweighs the bad“
“…Many bands have tried and failed to capture The Boss’ throne, but The Gaslight Anthem have successfully proven themselves to be the true heirs of Bruce Springsteen.“
“…Xavier is one of my all-time favorite artists and his music never fails to amaze, uplift and thoroughly entertain me…Xavier wrote, sang and played every instrument (of which there are many) on this spectacular new collection.“
“…Not only does The 2nd Law continue that grandiose marriage of arena rock and classical music, but its futuristic electronic twist allows the album to stand completely on its alone. Definitely one for the year end list…weaving thunderous rock, classical song structure and instrumentation with operatic backing vocals into a glorious, cross-genre cacophony.“
“…the teenage opera duo were this year’s Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent…Talent like Jonathan & Charlotte’s and an album like this doesn’t come along often, so I hope they have a long, successful career ahead of them.“
“…a very splendid and beautiful collection…elegantly serene…Andsnes and the other musicians do a superb job in their individual performances of each work. Even more noteworthy is their musical coalescescence.“
“…grandiose, rocked up electro-pop drama fronted by a wailing red-haired banshee. Their new album successfully captures and modernizes their snarling past glory.“
12. Cat Power: Sun
“…shockingly upbeat sound…Cat Power is still as sultry and mysterious as she always was, but the music is very much uptempo…There’s just something so unique about Cat Power’s voice, lyrics and song structure. That unusual quality makes what could be, should be pop songs something entirely different. It’s unpop.“
Cat Power: Ruin (mp3)*
“…The album explores pop, New Wave and synth rock in a way that is quite a departure from Palmer’s old punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, but it often has the same twisted wit, high energy and frenetic pace…the bombastic Theatre Is Evil is the best argument for fan-funded albums“
“…Have I mentioned I love The Mynabirds? The thumping, catchy, claphappy, fiercely femme indie sound of their new sophomore album, Generals, is somewhere between Lykke Li and Bats for Lashes. Thus the love…the album is deliciously rife with the band’s signature blend of synth-pop, rock, wails, hand claps and stomps.“
The Mynabirds – Body of Work (mp3)*
“…a tribute to The Mamas & Papas and The Beach Boys…their harmonies are as lovely as ever and very reminiscent of the two bands who spawned them…a sunny, summery, very catchy and surprisingly well orchestrated collection of classic pop covers.“
“…Khatia Buniatishvili’s Chopin is not only my favorite of the Chopin albums released this year, it’s my favorite classical release of 2012…Her nimble fingers are a perfect fit for the classical piano master’s compositions and her selection from his work is superbly diverse. Buniatishvili’s Chopin is an absolutely exquisite collection.“
“…Escort is a seventeen-member “disco orchestra”…definitely one of the more unusual and delightful acts I’ve heard…I can’t imagine a more fun and catchy album being released next year.“
Escort – Makeover (mp3)*
“…Where did this guy come from?…McPherson’s music is a delicious mix of brassed up retro soul and rumbling vintage blues-rock. It’s been a very long time since I was struck by such an intense sense of awe while listening to an album…sound like classics by Little Richard, Jackie Wilson or The Big Bopper with a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Sun Studios-era Elvis thrown in.“
“…who is this band and how can anyone make an entire album of music this good? Song after song, I would think I’d heard the best of the album only to be even more amazed by the next track. This is music for any band to aspire to and for any music fan to get very excited about.“
“…Norah has finally found a dark, dreamy sound interesting enough to successfully break away from those old coffeehouse categories without losing the mellow charm that made her famous. Produced by Danger Mouse, …Little Broken Hearts spices up pretty post-breakup pop anthems with luscious splashes of noirish electro-rock.“
“…Fiona Apple’s first album in seven years, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, weaves the fierce emotion, poetic lyrics and masterfully constructed compositions of her previous releases with a much more rugged recording style and strong splashes of jazz. The collection is somewhat unexpected and strange, but it’s also exquisitely beautiful and brilliant.“
“…The songs on The Fourth Wall break the barrier between folk and pop and also genre-hop through blues, gospel and rock…all wrapped up in dulcet harmonies and strikingly beautiful instrumentation.“
“…Anaïs Mitchell is like a modern day Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Her epic lyrical narratives echo Guthrie’s masterful talent for blending the literary with the ordinary, while her fierce and unique vocal phrasing as well as her intricately multi-layered arrangements take Dylanesque to a whole new realm….Young Man in America is both an ambitious recording project and a beautifully rich tapestry of classic folk songwriting. Anaïs Mitchell just may be my generation’s most talented singer-songwriter.“
*all mp3s, streams & videos uploaded by & posted w/ permission of artists, labels and/or their PR reps
Fiona Apple’s first album in seven years, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, weaves the fierce emotion, poetic lyrics and masterfully constructed compositions of her previous releases with a much more rugged recording style and strong splashes of jazz. The collection is somewhat unexpected and strange, but it’s also exquisitely beautiful and brilliant.
Fiona’s music has always hinted at the rawness of an exposed nerve, but The Idler Wheel… lays it all bare with little evidence of studio production. While there are plenty of stunners, the roughness and eccentricities of the overall recording were a bit jarring the first time around. It’s the first Fiona album that wasn’t obsessive love at first listen. Yet even that initial doubt was mingled with admiration for Fiona’s unusual song structures. The album is unquestionably heavy with artistic brilliance, it merely lacks the immediate listenability of her previous releases.
However, the album turned out to be quite the grower and familiarity has bred great affection. After a few weeks of getting to know and falling in love with these new songs, I wonder why I didn’t connect with it the first time. I say all this only to encourage any old Fiona fans to listen to the album without expectations or preconceptions of what a Fiona Apple album should sound like. There are hints of When the Pawn… and the leaked, Free Fiona-era, Jon Brion demos of Extraordinary Machine, but The Idler Wheel… is truly a unique and incomparable experience.
Fiona’s dark, punchy delivery in the opening verses of “Every Single Night” is about as close to her classic sound as we get here. The howling explosions of “a fight with my brain” make it clear this listening experience will be something else entirely.
“Daredevil” is by far my favorite track. Self-aware lyrics such as “Don’t let me ruin me, I may need a chaperone” reveal a messed up mind and heart hoping for a savior yet proudly insisting on being accepted as is. Every time the song plays, I’m astounded when Fiona hoarsely cries “Seek me out! Look at, Look at, Look at me!” then swiftly slips into a slinky jazz phrasing of “I’m all the fishes in the sea” before unleashing another wail of “Wake me up!“
With quietly heartfelt lyrics like “I’m amorous but out of reach, a still-life drawing of a peach” and subtle splashes of strings, the verses of “Valentine” captivate me. Sadly, though, I still find the repetitive “I root for you, I love you, You, You, You” chorus a bit irksome. And, try as I might, I still don’t like “Jonathan” – inspired by Fiona’s ex, author Jonathan Ames.
Fiona plays a jazzy Garbo in the piano-driven “Left Alone,” which is another favorite of mine.
“Werewolf” begins as a simple post-breakup piano ballad akin to Extraordinary Machine‘s “Parting Gift.” But the chorus heralds change as Fiona’s voice takes on a more passionate tone and is eventually backed by the screams of a concert crowd.
“Periphery” at first seems to be a low-fi but lyrical denunciation of celebrity sycophants before Fiona sets her disdainful sights on a lover’s wandering eye.
“Regret” is another initially understated look at the end of a relationship soon rattled with a full-throated, howling chorus.
The clang and clamor of “Anything We Want” and Fiona’s deadpan vocals are conceptually an odd fit for the song’s seductive lyrics, but the actuality is absolutely superb. A true artist doesn’t give the audience what they want, they give the audience what they didn’t know they want.
Several tracks find Fiona fully embracing the jazz phrasing and instrumentation she only played with in the past. None more so than the surprisingly simple but very effective finale, which features harmonies by Fiona’s jazz singer sister, Maude Maggart. Aside from Fiona eliciting from her piano a sound so akin to the beat, beat, beat of a tom-tom it would do Ella Fitzgerald proud, “Hot Knife” is a sultry, semi-acapella love song.
I think The Idler Wheel… may be Fiona’s Lorca – Tim Buckley’s fan-alienating, experimental masterpiece. The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do may never be my favorite or most played Fiona Apple album, but it’s most certainly her most complex and daring recording. And like the most delicious of acquired tastes, it gets better with every bite.