Top 25 LPs of 2012
‘The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw, and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do’. Say that out loud. Am I the only person who thinks that’s a great (if long) title? Conversely, Fiona Apple’s latest offering is a surprisingly stripped back affair, and yet, in terms of songwriting and composition, its her deepest and most accomplished work to date. Everything about ‘The Idler Wheel’ sounds natural, organic, like it’s being played from a disc made of wood – Apple’s piano has never sounded more natural, or more thunderous. Maybe, if this record proves anything, it’s that you can slap all the engineering glitter and paste you like on her, but nothing sounds better than when her voice and piano are pared to the bone, free from effects and garnish. The other real star here is Charley Drayton, her touring drummer, and now co-producer. His rattling, rumbling, hissing jazz drumming is the pairing that Apple’s bassy somersaulting voice seems to have been made for. Her use of sounds and textures is more creative than ever as well – ‘Daredevil’ is backed by a skittering thigh-slap rhythm, ‘Werewolf’s most joyous moment is perversely backed by samples of screaming children and ‘Periphery’ is held together by the crunch and scrape of velcro.
What’s more important, however, is that this is the best set of songs she has ever written – the silent-movie-esque creepy-crawly pianos on ‘Left Alone’ back a self-deprecating anxiety diatribe; ‘Every Single Night’ is one of the best songs ever written about insomnia, sounding halfway between Billie Holliday torch-song and a lullaby-gone-wrong; ‘Regret’ sees her veering close to losing all control, but instead you can’t help but feel bowled over when her voice cracks like someone snapping a plank on their knee. While ‘The Idler Wheel…’ often centres around sad personal subjects, it’s at once compelling and joyful, because you can feel the catharsis in every note. You know that this is a woman who loves to make this music, and it’s an infectious feeling. The last track ‘Hot Knife’, is its happiest moment and covers that glorious buzz of falling in love, with high-low layered harmonies, rolling timpani and spiky peaks and troughs. Fiona Apple was already one of the best American singer-songwriters of her age, but ‘The Idler Wheel’ feels like the record she has been wanting to make for over a decade – it’s a magnificent, cerebral piece of work that is as dense and complex as it is skeletal.
For fans of… Bjork, Kate Bush, Regina Spektor, Ben Folds, Jeff Buckley, PJ Harvey
Click here to hear Every Single Night