Title: Hot Knife
Artist: Fiona Apple
Album: The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Way back in September of 2013 (yeah, way back then), I wrote a post about Fiona Apple's controversial beginnings as a pop artist, acknowledging there was more than meets the eye to the waifish 19-year-old. At 36, Apple has now spent more than half her life in the music-making business and her mature sound would come as a revelation to those who wrote her off in the late 90s.
I would count myself among that crowd if I had ever given any thought at all to Apple but she didn't fall very close to my tree in the 90s or ever. Only when I started writing this blog did I give her music a deserving chance and it has been a delight to uncover this singular talent. For The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, Apple took a break from longtime producer Jon Brion and enlisted her touring drummer Charley Drayton to tweak the dials. Drayton apparently brought a dumptruck full of toys to the studio and the resulting intermingling of Apple's always interesting piano playing with his colorful percussion is refreshing. (Check out "Jonathan" for a track that really comes alive as a result of the percussion.) This addition of membranophones, metallophones and idiophones (oh my!) pushes Apple closer to a contemporary jazz sound than she's ever been and it seems to have especially had an impact on her singing, which is even more rhythmic and percussive.
"Hot Knife" is almost a novelty track, buried at the end of the album. But it's so much fun, I couldn't resist sharing it. I personally find the words to be a little silly but the conflicting-voices-in-my-head-concept works with this polyphonic multi-tracking. Anyway, it's not really about the words, is it? These are just consonants and vowels enlisted to deliver the rhythm and phrasing that she does so well. And instead of turning it into some funk thing or a big band-like a capella number a là Manhattan Transfer, she plays outside piano licks (like at 0:40) and keeps Drayton away from the drum kit entirely in favor of a tribal beat she plays herself on a pair of timpani. This track is stark! On top of all that, she enlists indie film darling Paul Thomas Anderson to make her video. If you ask me, little Fiona has grown into a pretty cool cat.