Monday, July 2, 2012

Of lycanthropes and such

It's been a good music year so far. Two of my favorite musicians released new music within the last two months. (I will admit that the Beck single is more of a one-off, but hey, it's something.) I stopped by Park Ave CDs and picked up the new Fiona Apple album and the Beck single "I Just Started Hating Some People Today". (Speaking of Jack White, I'm so pumped to find out what's in store for Radiohead after Thom gave a shoutout to JW at Bonnaroo a couple weekends ago. Another Blue Series single? Yes, please!)

Of course, everyone is abuzz about Fiona's latest album, The Idler Wheel... After listening to the NPR stream of the album for several days on end, I finally purchased the deluxe version. One of the things about buying music for me these days is that if I am buying it, I want the biggest and baddest version that doesn't veer on gimmicky.

All of this is to say that the deluxe version of Fiona's album is worth it. Beautifully made and curated, it contains reproductions of her drawings, notes, and lyrics in her handwriting.

As for the music, it did take me a couple of listens to appreciate it all. At first, "Jonathan" was a bit unnerving, but I think that was the whole point. It's easily one of my favorite tracks on the album now. "Werewolf" is a poignantly written and melodic piece -- but like some have pointed out, I think I could do without the screaming kids at the end (protip: turn off the audio from your right channel when you get to 2:08). There are a couple of songs that I have a tendency to skip over, including "Valentine", "Left Alone" (awesome lyrics, but the mix is so instrumental-heavy), and "Periphery". The final track on this album is "Hot Knife", and because I'm a sucker for (mostly*) vocal-only performances (see Björk's Medulla) and looped/layered vocals, I have to admit that this is my favorite song on the whole thing.

*Yes, there's percussion and piano on this track, but it's minimal.

This edition also came with a DVD of her performance at the 2012 SXSW conference, but personally, it's a bit of a throwaway inclusion for me. Although I don't like to compare one album against another in an artist's oeuvre (I try my best to separate album from album), I like The Idler Wheel... better than Extraordinary Machine, but I still find When the Pawn Hits... to be my favorite Fiona record.

Here's my confession: I'm a bad Beck fan. I was really devoted from Odelay* through Guero, but I never bothered picking up anything else onward. (I did listen to the singles from the last couple albums, though.) As I'm writing this, I decided to listen to his complete discography on Spotify as penance.

*Bonus story: I was in middle school when Odelay came out, and although I listened to the album over and over again, no matter how many times I heard it, the opening to "Lord Only Knows" always scared the crap out of me.

Beck's "I Just Started Hating Some People Today" is completely what you expect Beck to put out. There's a country-folk vibe mixed with lyrics about wanting to punch your face and nunchucks. The last minute-and-a-half of the track dissolves to a fast-moving punk piece and then segues into a jazz lounge number. (Honestly, it's probably better that you listened to this song first without reading this description -- it's a much more fun and unexpected ending.) The B-side is "Blue Randy", which is more musically straightforward, but is all Beck lyrically.

The only bummer is that I'm pretty sure I need to replace my record player needle, and I'll have to wait to transfer the 7" vinyl over to tasty digital bits.