3. Fiona Apple
The Idler Wheel…
[Epic]

On the first track of Fiona Apple’s new album The Idler Wheel…, “Every Single Night,” she sings “I just wanna feel everything,” drawing out every syllable to aching, painful lengths. It could be her one line manifesto, or epitaph. Perhaps more than any of her peers, Apple never appears to be doing anything but unreservedly, unabashedly emoting in her songs, and never more so than on The Idler Wheel…. Recorded in secret from her record label over the course of several years (and who could blame her, considering her infamous experiences with Extraordinary Machine?) with longtime musical associate Charley Drayton, Apple has never sounded more raw or honest than on these 10 songs.

Eschewing the orchestral arrangements and leanings to pop of her previous albums, The Idler Wheel… is Apple has her simplest, which makes it all the more powerful. Though the album prominently utilizes her favored instrument, the piano, and a multitude of unusual editions like the bouzouki, kora and what is listed as “the voice of pain,” its true sound is the singer’s voice. She doesn’t hold back for even a single track of the album, putting as much force into the weird susurrations of the finale “Hot Knife” as the unnerving, jagged deep cut “Left Alone.” She even seems to crack on a note for a brief moment in “Regret,” something that could be seen as a mistake, but its inclusion is no mistake. It is more evidence of Apple’s dedication to honesty, even if that means including minor defects in the process, perhaps even especially that.

Apple’s career has always been a strange and twisty one, from early stardom to increasingly challenging wordplay and subject matter to self-imposed reclusion. But none of it has changed what’s been obvious from the start: she’s a songwriter of undeniable skill and a performer of heartbreaking power. In 10 songs, she takes listeners from depths of depression to heights of joy, terror and even lust, all breathtaking in their sheer passion. Where the naked exposure of emotion could be a weakness, Apple makes it her strength, and The Idler Wheel… may prove to be her finest display of that contradiction. – Nathan Kamal

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