I can’t say I’m a big fan of Ben Sollee’s original music, but I do like his cover of Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine.” The cover is included in Sollee’s free Noisetrade album, The Hollow Sessions. You can download the album by entering your email address below.
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.
Epic Records is giving us a taste of Fiona Apple‘s upcoming album, The Idler Wheel… (to be released June 19th). You can stream the first single, “Every Single Night,” via the official SoundCloud widget below. If this song is any indication, the new album will be just as charming and fierce as Fiona’s previous releases.
As we eagerly anticipate the June 19th release of Fiona Apple’s new album, The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do, I’m happy to announce Fiona will be gracing the nation with a rare summer tour. Dates below. If you missed it the first time ’round, also check out our review of Fiona’s recent Chicago concert.
Fiona Apple 2012 Summer Tour Dates
6/19 Ithaca, NY: State Theatre
6/20 Baltimore, MD: Lyric Opera House
6/22 Mashantucket, CT: MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods
6/23 Holyoke, MA: Mountain Park
6/24 New York, NY: The Governors Ball – Randall’s Island
6/26 Washington, DC: Warner Theatre
6/27 Upper Darby, PA: Tower Theatre
6/29 Danbury, CT: Ives Concert Park
6/30 Boston, MA: Citi Performing Arts Center
7/1 Portland, ME: State Theatre
7/3 Montreal, QC: Olympia Theatre
7/4 Toronto, ON: The Sound Academy
7/6 Cleveland Heights, OH: Cain Park
7/7 Detroit, MI: The Fillmore Detroit
7/9 Grand Rapids, MI: Meijer Gardens
7/10 Chicago, IL: Chicago Theatre
7/11 Indianapolis, IN: Murat Theatre
7/13 Nashville, TN: Ryman Auditorium
7/14 St. Louis, MO: Peabody Opera House
7/16 Minneapolis, MN: Orpheum Theatre
7/17 Kansas City, MO: The Midland by AMC
7/20 Denver, CO: Paramount Theatre
7/21 Salt Lake City, UT: Kingsbury Hall – University of Utah
7/24 Vancouver, BC: Orpheum
7/25 Seattle, WA: Paramount Theatre
7/26 Portland, OR: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
7/28 Oakland, CA: Fox Theater
7/29 Hollywood, CA: Hollywood Palladium
I think it safe to say that the extraordinary Fiona Apple is one of the all-time favorite artists of every single writer on the Muruch staff. This is particularly true of our Mid-West reviewer/photographer Jen “Coble” Hopper, who was fortunate enough to attend Fiona Apple’s live performance on March 19th at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. You can read Coble’s review and view her photographs from the concert below…
The stage at Lincoln Hall was tiny and intimate, crowded with a baby grand piano, a drum kit and a full accompanying band. The piano was lovingly draped with gorgeous, fringed fabric and several candles. To the right, Fiona greeted the crowd with only a warm smile before beginning her performance. There was just enough floor space to allow her signature expressive physical performance, her body rolling and convulsing through “Fast As You Can.”
The 21+ crowd was elated, cheering Fiona loudly between the first few songs with occasional shouts of “Welcome back!” and “We missed you!” All the while, they collectively sang along with well-loved songs from her first three albums. She spent time at the piano as well as standing at the mic, her eyes closed as she passionately belted out every word. She only opening them when the lights were dim, her shyness still evident. Any stage banter was unnecessary.
The crowd settled after the first few songs of the set, the packed room going completely silent to allow each of the lyrics to be heard. To accompany the new tune, “Anything We Want,” Fiona played a piece of old rebar or scrap metal with what appeared to be a long nail to create a sound like a kitchen sink. A few of the more charming lyrics from the song include this verse:
I’ll draw on the walls and you can play UFC Rookie
Then we’ll grow up, take our clothes off
and you’ll remind me that I wanted you to kiss me
When we find some time alone
and then we can do anything we want
These written lyrics really do not do justice to the whimsy of the upbeat tune or the joy she obviously felt performing it.
Another new song, “Valentine,” started with minimal instrumentals, letting her voice and the lyrics stand alone until after the second verse:
I’m amorous but out of reach
A still-life drawing of peach.
The resonating chorus, “I root for you, I love you, you you you” is followed with the familiar, haunting chord progressions that have grown to be characteristic of her work.
The other new song, “Every Single Night,” is another lighter melody paired with relatable, anxious thoughts:
Every single night’s a fight
and every single fight’s alright with my brain
I just want to feel everything
That’s why the devil can’t get around me
The now peaceful audience marveled between songs, and evoked a flattered smile from Fiona with singular calls of “I love you!” and “How are you real?”
Fiona still wears each song like a second skin, letting her emotions be completely exposed; slipping easily between the youthful angst and anger of betrayal to lighter or more mature selections. She growled and gritted out “Sleep to Dream” in one of her most impassioned performances, reliving the anger and the frustration with every inch of her petite form. Later in the song, she disappeared behind the piano, bent over at the middle, seemingly hiding through the instrumental portion. On the contrary, “Extraordinary Machine” elicited a practically bubbly performance with playful twists of waist and shoulders and a swinging foot. She bleated and howled older songs like “Carrion” with such volume and raw emotion, they became fresh and new.
She struggled just slightly in her higher range, and her voice was more rough in parts as she finished with “Criminal.” She slowly, gently removed her monitor and sat it on the piano. It’s possible that the only words spoken to the crowd were those to genuinely thank them for a wonderful evening before she walked off stage, not to return. The common wish among the crowd was for a longer set, but it’s evident that Fiona’s performances are on her terms. She spoke only when necessary, and, once she felt her voice start to strain, ended the set without the exercise of an encore.
Her return to the stage was anything but disappointing. Fiona Apple delivered a recharged, inspiring and musically enticing performance. Her next characteristically long-titled release cannot come soon enough, but The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is tentatively scheduled to hit stores sometime in June.
25. Muse: The Resistance
This is one of those albums that has classic potential, and I expect to move its way up the list as the years go by. A quote from my review: “Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard.”
24. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Rabbit
It was difficult to narrow how Gaba’s releases to just one, but I think her latest is her strongest to date. As I said when I named it #4 on my Top Albums list, it is “probably the most unusual and creative album” of 2009.
23. Soundtrack: Once
The soundtrack to the Irish independent film Once features The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I said in my 2007 review that Hansard’s “lyrics are deeply poetic, his music is heart-wrenchingly lovely, and his beautifully raw voice conveys emotion as if the man were literally ripping his own chest open as he sings.”
22. Antony & The Johnsons: Antony & The Johnsons
Instead of a best of 2005 list, I deemed it The Year of the Bird and that post says everything about how Antony’s music made me feel when I first heard it. While I Am A Bird Now was their more popular release, I’ve always favored their self-titled 2000 album.
21. Pina: Quick Look
Pina sadly remains my best kept secret. I discovered her in the early aughts when a French pal shared mp3s of “I Loved the Way” and “Bring Me a Biscuit.” I also love Pina’s 2005 release Guess You Got It, but the rougher edges of Quick Look‘s production fit better with her “Gothic folk” style.
20. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones
My 2008 review summed it up: “The flawless beauty of this album is almost beyond my comprehension.“
19. Hem: Funnel Cloud
I like this album even more now than when I called it a “nearly perfect album” in my 2007 review.
18. Damien Dempsey: To Hell or Barbados
As I stated in my 2007 review, the album is a “genre-hop through folk, rock, electronica, and reggae…but the genre gymnastics still take a back seat to the stunning quality of Dempsey’s voice.”
17. Anais Mitchell: The Brightness
My 2007 review said: “Like the greatest of classic literature, the compositions on The Brightness are the kind that softly seep through your skin and slowly make their way into your heart and mind before exploding in dazzling display of amazement.”
14. Xavier Rudd: Dark Shades of Blue
Xavier has quickly become my favorite male artist in recent years, and as I said in my 2008 review: “the astounding quality of his songs make me wonder if future generations might consider Xavier Rudd to be the greatest artist of this era.”
15. Mavis Staples: Never Turn Back
I’m almost ashamed not to put this at #1, because in many ways this is the greatest album of the past two or three decades. I simply don’t listen to it often as the albums listed below. I suppose this is because the weighty subject matter requires a certain mood. But as I said when I reviewed it two years ago: “We’ll Never Turn Back is what music should be. Gut-wrenching blues, earth shaking beats, hip swaying rhythms, deeply moving lyrics, and a rich voice that defies description.“
14. Luminescent Orchestrii: Too Hot to Sleep
I deemed 2005 “the year of the bird,” but that’s only because I didn’t hear Luminescent Orchestrii until 2007 when I said: “there’s a definite connection between their frenzied, violent approach to orchestral instruments and the punk cabaret of The Dresden Dolls, but neither description fully captures their unique and unearthly sound.“
13. Flogging Molly: Swagger
This album ushered in the Celtic Punk craze of the decade. There’s no such thing as a bad Flogging Molly album, but this one was definitely their best.
12. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory
In my review I called Inland Territory a grand “display of Vienna Teng’s brilliance, grace, and talent.” I continue to fall more and more in love with this album with each listen.
11. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads
10. Mary Timony: Mountains
I had never heard of former Helium singer Mary Timony until a friend sent me this album shortly after its 2000 release. Mary’s unusual mix of Medieval folk, chamber pop, and indie-rock was unlike anything I’d heard before, and it remains one of the most strangely beautiful recordings I’ve ever heard.
9. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band: The Whole Fam Damnily
My #1 album of 2008. In my review, I called it an “inebriating concoction of swamp stomp and backwoods pluck.” But in subsequent listens I’ve found myself drawn more to The Rev’s lyrics, which accurately capture the perils of modern rural life.
8. Allison Crowe: Live at Wood Hall
Oh that voice! Still gives me chills. I’ve posted about Allison Crowe so many times over the years that I consider her Muruch’s musical mascot. As I said in my 2007 review: “there’s really no way to convey through mere words how much the music on Allison Crowe’s Live At Wood Hall moves me” Forget Susan Boyle, Allison sang the definitive cover of “I Dreamed a Dream.” (mp3)*
7. Soundtrack: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling
I always call it the “Buffy Musical” rather than its proper title Once More With Feeling.” Years before Dr. Horrible, Joss Whedon wrote a hilarious, poignant, and very catchy musical for an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I don’t know how well the songs translate if you never watched the Buffy series, but I still love singing along to the soundtrack. The album features vocals by actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Allison Hannigan, Michelle Trachtenberg, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, and Anthony Stewart Head. This is an example of why file sharing works – I and several friends burned our own soundtracks from mp3s recorded directly from the televised episode long before the soundtrack was released, yet we all purchased the official album once it became available.
6. Xavier Rudd: White Moth
I could easily include all of Xavier Rudd’s albums on this list, but I tried to limit myself to just two. My 2008 review said: “Rudd deems the album his “proudest work” and it’s easy to understand why.” But it’s really only been with repeated listens over the past two years that I’ve grown to love and truly appreciate its magnificence. And nothing speaks to the greatness of an album like having a panic attack when you think you’ve lost it and knowing you must replace it immediately. Fortunately, I found my copy!
5. Damien Rice: O
Unlike most Americans, I heard and fell in love with O when it was originally released in Ireland in 2001. My clothbound first edition of the album is a collector’s item now, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. Rice seems to have faced some post-hype backlash in recent years, but that doesn’t erase the brilliance of this album. Most remember it for Lisa Hannigan’s delicate harmonies, but Rice’s use of strings and opera music were also very unique at the time. And the album as a whole has withstood changing trends in music over the years.
4. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine
This is another example of why file sharing can have a positive effect on album sales. Remember “Free Fiona”? If you don’t, Fiona recorded a version of this album with producer Jon Brion and her label initially refused to release it. Mp3s of the demos were leaked online, the fans loved them, and a huge campaign called “Free Fiona” was launched in hopes of getting the album released. It worked, though Fiona re-recorded most of the album for the official release. I was one of many who purchased the album even though I had the demo mp3s. My 2005 review also shifted the focus of this site from simply sharing music to encouraging people to purchase albums. It has since become one of my favorite albums ever, and I hope Fiona decides to grace us with another release in the near future.
3. Soundtrack: Hedwig & The Angry Inch
Among the 2000-04 archives of this site that have been lost were my reviewes of the movie Hedwig & The Angry Inch (which I saw in a double bill with The Anniversary Party at a local film festival) and its soundtrack. Whether or not you’re familiar with John Cameron Mitchell’s awesome musical about a German transgender rocker, the soundtrack is one of the best rock albums of all time. There are thunderous punk rock numbers like “Angry Inch” and heart-melting ballads like “Origin of Love.” Why Mitchell continues to act instead of record music is a mystery to me.
2. Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World
In my November, 2006 review, I said “I don’t believe I’ve ever said this about an album before, but I think Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World is just about perfect.” I stand by that statement. I’ve played this album more than any other released in the past three years, and only one band could keep it from the number 1 spot…
1. The Dresden Dolls: The Dresden Dolls
Anyone who knows me or has been a longtime reader of this site knows that The Dresden Dolls are/were my favorite band. My posts about their self-titled debut (and the live A Is For Accident album that preceded it) were also lost with early archives of this site, but I’ve raved every other Dresden Dolls release since then. After “Over the Rainbow”, The Dresden Doll’s “Girl Anachronism” is my favorite song and this is possibly my all-time favorite album. Amanda Palmer proves without a doubt that – in the right hands – the piano is the most punk rock of all instruments.
*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist