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Album Picks: Fiona Apple, King Tuff, Grass Widow, Liars

Posted by Billy Gil, June 19, 2012 07:27pm | Post a Comment
fiona apple the idler wheelToday Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel … was released. The first time I spun the album my jaw dropped. I grew up listening to Fiona Apple. She was one of my favorite artists in high school, and I’d followed her since the Tidal days, through her more “mature” albums When the Pawn … and Extraordinary Machine. I’d always still liked her, but my fervor had subsided a bit since those awkward teen years when her brand of super-confessional experimental pop really hit home. Well, this is something wholly different. As great as her previous three albums were, The Idler Wheel is the gutsiest thing she’s put out yet. Even more so than on Extraordinary Machine, Apple sounds uninterested in storming the radio with The Idler Wheel. She’s after something bigger here. Lyrically, she exposes her greatest wounds and digs at them with extraordinary candor and self-directed venom. “I root for you, I love you, you you you you” she sings on one of her lovelier tunes, “Valentine,” but even then, that devotion has a desperate tone that makes it hard to take at face value. Similarly, on “Jonathan,” lines like “I like watching you live” are accompanied by a fairly dissonant arrangement, deranged drumwork by collaborator Charlie Drayton and musique concrète that makes the whole thing sound like a ship coming apart. Vocally, Apple has never sounded stronger, scarier and more assured, frequently unleashing shiver-inducing cries, growling and singing with unchained vibrato within the same breaths, on songs like the searing “Left Alone.” And just when things get too grim, she closes the album with a jazzy, sexy ode to a guy who cuts through her like a “hot knife.” From start to finish, across its jagged edges and soaring heights, Idler Wheel is an exhilarating, simply astonishing listen.
 
king tuffI’m a big fan of garage rock but not necessarily of its sometimes limiting factors — guitars and vocals have to have just enough care balanced with slop, that sort of thing. So it’s nice to hear a couple of great up-and-coming albums from bands who subscribe to garage rock aesthetics but not “surf rock fun times” generic modes. King Tuff’s self-titled album is a real riot, from its opening track “Anthem,” which delivers perfectly delivered riffery the likes of which is pretty rare these days. Along with like-minded peers Ty Segall and the late Jay Reatard, King Tuff write songs first and foremost, and the ground covered here becomes more apparent upon repeat listens, which isn’t hard to do with an album that’s this much fun to listen to. “Alone & Stoned” has terrific ascendant vocal lines and a cool ’80s vibe under its garage veneer. “Unusual World” is a touching garage ballad that doesn’t shy away from varying its instrumentation, with synths and vibes adding nice touches to Tuff’s Marc Bolan-esque delivery. What I’m most taken with on King Tuff is that it delivers catchy garage pop tunes while refusing to adhere to one tempo and one sound like so many albums of a similar ilk. My personal favorite: the Vaselines-ish “Stupid Superstar.”
 
Grass Widow Internal LogicAlong those same lines, I really can’t get enough of Grass Widow’s Internal Logic. Starting off with its lo-fi sci-fi opener “Goldilocks Zone,” Internal Logic is a perfect example of a band perfectly executing a much-missed particular sound while adding its own peculiar flair of cool nerdy girl chic. Not to be limiting, but the album in some ways plays like a master class in post-punk girl bands: the multiple harmonic voices of Stereolab; the out-of-step tempos of Kleenex and ESG and their progeny, like Erase Errata and Electrelane; and off-kilter charm of bands like The Breeders. Fun and clever without biting off more than it can chew, Internal Logic pretty much leaves me with a smile on my face from start to finish.
 
liars wixiwLast but not least, I hope the new Liars album doesn’t get lost in the shuffle ‘cause WIXIW is every bit as good as their previous few releases, in my mind. Thought it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Drum’s Not Dead, I’m digging this new, quieter yet just as paranoid edition of Liars. WIXIW is pop in the way the Silver Apples or Portishead’s Third are pop, equal parts sinister and beautiful, with a throbbing heart underneath its digital beats. “Octagon” is disturbing, atonal at parts, yet its whole is instantly memorable, sticking mean hooks into you that feel better than they should. “No. 1 Against the Rush” sends goth down the autobahn, playing out like a krautrock variation on The Cure’s “A Forest.” WIXIW has been compared to Radiohead’s Kid A, and, listening to the title track — which disintegrates eerily under waves of oscillators and comes pulsing back for a haunting chanted chorus — it’s not hard to see why.

Relevant Tags

Silver Apples (2), Stereolab (3), Ty Segall (26), Vaselines (1), Liars (9), Grass Widow (15), King Tuff (6), Fiona Apple (9), The Cure (37), Portishead (10)