Category: Fiona Apple

Album review: Fiona Apple's 'The Idler Wheel ...'

You learn a lot about Fiona Apple by what she chooses to reveal in the lyrics to her 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.” A songwriter whose greatest flaw is evidenced in the extended title, the Los Angeles singer and pianist has on her latest record ironically offered her most focused, refined and best-edited album in the 16 years since her (one-worded) debut, “Tidal.” 

Over the course of a perfectly sequenced 42-minute album, Apple describes herself as “a still life drawing of a peach,” “all the fishes in the sea,” “a fugitive too dull to flee,” a tulip in a cup, a dewy petal and a moribund slut. These sorts of reveals are nothing new, of course.

Apple, 34, has always been a first-person songwriter unafraid of sharing intimacies and speaking in absolutes. But because this is only her fourth album since 1996 and her first since 2005’s “Extraordinary Machine,” few had any idea of the ways in which she had perfected her craft in the last seven years, or how she’d learned to build songs delicate enough to be beautiful but sturdy enough to support her voice.

Apple’s “The Idler Wheel” is an exquisitely rendered work, with as many thrilling moments of silence and space as with vocal drama. It’s essential 2012 listening for anyone interested in popular music as art. And like all great albums, it’s an encapsulation of all that has come before it as filtered through a singular aesthetic.

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Graphic: Fiona Apple's new 23-word album title, diagrammed

Fiona Apple's new album is a sentence, and a rather unruly one at that. It's called: "The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do," and is 23 words long. We'll leave her title to her fans and detractors to dissect and find meaning within. But as a visual aid, here's the sentence diagrammed using the Reed-Kellogg method; perhaps by understanding Apple's construction, listeners will be better equipped to handle its meaning.


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Twitter: @liledit

Graphic: Randall Roberts / Los Angeles Times, using Reed-Kellog diagrammer


Nicki Minaj, Glen Campbell, Wilco among L.A.'s top summer concerts

Southern California’s summer pop music calendar includes Hard Summer, Make Music Pasadena and Rock the Bells festivals.

Images: Fiona Apple (Jack Plunkett / Associated Press) Nicki Minaj (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times); Maxwell (Sean Gardner / Getty Images)
Nicki Minaj. Skrillex. Glen Campbell’s goodbye tour. Wilco. Some big names in pop are coming to Southern California this summer, promising a decent warm-weather season and the extension of a concert year that already has promoters singing.

Last month, promotion giant Live Nation, which also operates Ticketmaster, reported a 6% increase in ticket sales for the first quarter of 2012 compared with the same period last year -- no doubt due to a spring that has seen Bruce Springsteen, Van Halen, the Beach Boys and Roger Waters touring; the Beverly Hills-based company also just promoted three sold-out Coldplay shows at the Hollywood Bowl. With artists such as Justin Bieber and Madonna not making it out West until the fall, the year’s blockbuster tours would seem to conveniently miss L.A.’s summer months.

But music fans still have a lot to celebrate this summer.

The annual downtown dance event known as Hard Summer has expanded from one day to two, and the yet-to-be-announced rock-centric festival known as FYF, also downtown and produced by the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival promoter Goldenvoice, has also stretched from one to two days over Labor Day. A festival spokeswoman says to expect the lineup to be revealed by the end of this month. What’s more, the Dave Matthews Band, one of the concert industry’s biggest stars, will swing through Southern California in September.

Gary Bongiovani, editor of concert-tracking publication Pollstar, also notes that tours are maximizing value: “We’re seeing good solid three-act shows these days. One way to stand out of the fog is to combine and offer fans real value. We see Enrique Iglesias, Jennifer Lopez, Wisin Y Yandel. That’s a great tri-bill. In previous years, we may not have seen that combination of talent.”

Here’s a look at just a few of the big-name acts and can’t-miss shows coming to the L.A. this summer.

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Video exclusive: Sara Watkins' 'Take Up Your Spade'

Fiddler, singer and songwriter Sara Watkins often comes across as a favorite little sister, especially to those who have monitored her growth from an older-than-her-years member of the boundary-breaking San Diego bluegrass trio Nickel Creek to her subsequent family endeavors with brother Sean and her frequent solo outings with various collaborators, many of them at Largo in L.A.

Several members of her extended musical family have turned up on her recently released second solo album, "Sun Midnight Sun," and a couple also help out with the video for the album's closing track, "Take Up Your Spade," premiering on Pop & Hiss. The song itself is a gentle benedictory ode to the notion that every moment brings with it the possibility of renewal.

The video, also featuring Jackson Browne, Fiona Apple (one of those Largo regulars) and producer Blake Mills, consists of home-movie-like footage of the recording session, and backyard basketball breaks, at Zeitgeist Studio in L.A.

"I have known Jackson almost as long as Fiona," Watkins tells Pop & Hiss. "I met both of them at Largo. I just sort of found myself on stage with them, and both have become frequent guests at our Watkins Family Hour show" -- the monthly residency she and her guitarist-singer brother Sean have been holding at Largo for nearly a decade.


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Fiona Apple announces U.S. summer tour


Fiona Apple's return to the spotlight just got kicked into overdrive as the notoriously reclusive singer-songwriter announced plans for a summer tour.

After nearly seven years of silence, she is releasing her exhaustively titled fourth album, "The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do" on June 19, the same day her 27-date trek is set to kick off in Ithaca, N.Y. Apple’s tour concludes July 29 at the Hollywood Palladium.

 "The Idler Wheel …” is Apple's long-awaited follow-up to "Extraordinary Machine," which was released in 2005. The new album's first single, "Every Single Night," is expected to be released April 24.

Tickets for the L.A. date go on sale April 27 with more information available on the singer’s website.

See the full list of dates for Apple's summer tour after the jump:

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SXSW 2012: Fiona Apple at Stubb's

Fiona Apple at Stubb's: Click for more photos from South by Southwest

Fiona Apple does not make BBQ music. It's not really art designed for a fiesta, not really "music festival" material -- whatever that is. She makes living room and/or bedroom music, perfect for theaters but not necessarily for backyard gravel pits. 

"You're imaginary, you're not real," she said between songs at Austin BBQ joint Stubb's as part of NPR Music's South by Southwest showcase, her first live performance in advance of her new album, "The Idler Wheel," and one of a few shows she's doing in advance of its summer release. Apple seemed to be wishing us away so that she could concentrate -- and the more she wished, the more urgent her delivery became. She pushed her contralto to the edge, where her voice went gruff and crackled.

But the thousands that packed the backyard bowl were indeed real, and comprised a lot of people who knew all the words to all the songs from her scant output over the last 15 years. Recall that when Apple rose, she was just 19 years old, but unlike artists who milk their success with annual albums and tours, she's released just three records, with a fourth on the way. And many people have internalized those songs. 

FULL COVERAGE: South by Southwest

Apple, now 34, looked a little stressed but not ridiculously so. She appeared much more frazzled in late November, when she appeared during one of Jon Brion's regular gigs at Largo in Los Angeles. There, after Brion performed a few of his own songs, Apple seemed distracted and a little scattered, though her voice was in fine form as she tossed out a few jazz standards. 

She was much more put together at Stubb's, where she played a combination of old and new songs, including a searing take on "On the Bound," her Brechtian dirge, which she offered on grand piano (yes, there was a grand piano at a BBQ). "Paper Bag," which was given new life last year in "Bridesmaids," was offered with those beautiful snare drum runs intact.

The few new songs were of a part with the rest of her work: an odd but effective combination of rock, jazz, soul and blues that touched on all without committing to any. Like the best of her work, her lyrical drama was tempered with a certain swing and swagger that belies the message that, in Apple's words during "Paper Bag," "you know I'm a mess."

She wasn't a mess at Stubb's, even if she seemed like she couldn't wait to get off the stage. Not because of rudeness, though -- but because she seems so much more at home when we in the crowd remain imaginary, when the reality isn't staring right at her in the form of a bunch of people she doesn't know who really, really like her music and lyrics a lot.  


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-- Randall Roberts reporting from Austin, Texas

Photo: Fiona Apple performs at the NPR showcase during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas on Wednesday, March 14, 2012. Credit: Jack Plunkett / Associated Press


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