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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
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+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
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+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
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44.1 kHz Archive

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Fiona Apple
Extraordinary Machine

The Transfiguration of Fiona into the most unlikely member of the hallowed hall of Rock 'n' Roll Saints was on the way. Her first Miracle: decrying awards shows and her soft-porn video for the hideous "Criminal" in front of millions. Her second: giving her second album a 90-word title, a move that may as well have stickered it with the old five-word Nailbomb label Proud to Commit Commercial Suicide, the predictable difficult-second-album sales clocking in at not even a third of her first's. The third Miracle, for which she was to be bestowed a canonized place in pop-cultural Forever, was for Apple to be some one-woman Wilco: making an album deemed "unreleasable" by dudes in suits, only for the Power of the People to get her misunderstood magnum opus on shelves via the Internet's file-sharing wires.

Only problem being that Apple wasn't actually in on this idealist idea. It was she, in fact, who bailed on the first version of Extraordinary Machine — made with Jon Brion, an orchestra, and Abbey Road as her allies — to rerecord it all with longtime Dr.Dre associate Mike Elizondo. When that plan was questioned by Sony suits who'd footed the bill for the first go-around, it was actually Apple who shut everything down. If the movement that sought to "save" her was called Free Fiona, the empowered People were protesting to have Apple released from a self-made prison. The petition-signers eventually had their influence, albeit more indirectly: not getting the widely-bootlegged Brion version officially released, but, rather, motivating Apple to finally finish her third longplayer.

With such a backstory, this final, finished, officially-released Extraordinary Machine is an anticlimax. Rather than representing the Emancipation of Fi-Fi, this disc serves as sad evidence of musical meekness, be it on the part of artist, label, or both. Lacking both the musical and counter-cultural thrill of the Brion recordings, this album turns away from a certain artistic "rawness" in the original recordings, razing away counter-melodies and acoustic decay for a well-polished delivery that presents the photogenic songstress in a more "flattering" light; pushing her voice forth, and receding the accompanying arrangements into an indistinct finish of drum-loops, keyboards, and throbbing bass. Contrasting against this are three songs: two survivors of the Brion productions, and one, "Parting Gift," where Elizondo and Co. provide no musical backing for Apple's original piano/vocal performance, said performance rendering melodrama writ large in quiet/loud contrast and slyly syncopated syllables, with her singing of "shoulda put 'em," twice over, showing Apple at her best. This playful phrasing is shown beautifully, on the album's amazing title-track opener, where the piano man pirouettes through playful phonetic phrases — "You deem me due to clean my view and be at peace and lay/ I mean to prove I mean to move in my own way, and say/ I've been getting along for long before you came into the play" — whilst Brion, in his orchestral element, matches this with deliberately-delightful pizzicato strings, marimba, woodwinds, and a banged gong.

As it stands, it stands as the album's towering achievement, an album opener that, in another, better world, would be a statement of intent upon whose promise the resulting record would deliver. But, this isn't the case. And this is not to be, Fiona's place as a countercultural Saint being now just so much Apple pie-in-the-sky.

by Anthony Carew

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