Skip to main content

100 Albums: "Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Fiona Apple
Title: Extraordinary Machine
Released: 2005
Genre: adult contemporary jazz pop


I was a fan of Fiona Apple's album When The Pawn... but had kind of forgotten about her by 2005. So when I happened to spot a new album from Apple--her first in six years--on the rack at a Best Buy, I excitedly picked it up and popped it into the player. I listened to the eponymous opening track, and my initial reaction was "What the hell did I just listen to?" After that song, the over-compressed drum machine kicked in and it started to sound more like the Fiona Apple I was familiar with, and by the time I got to the end I was completely won over. It got me wondering why there was such a gap between the two albums. It turns out Extraordinary Machine was finished and ready to be released in 2003, but it sat on the shelf for a few years. The reasons aren't known, but it's widely believed that the label didn't have much confidence in it. In the intervening years, the album was re-recorded and polished up and finally released at the insistence of ardent fans who knew that it existed and just wanted to spend money on it!

Extraordinary Machine leans hard into Apple's strengths. Her jazzy piano compositions are filled out with bouncy marimbas, horns, and leslie'd organs. Her deep, smoky voice is front and center without doubling, harmonies, or really any noticeable effects on it. She's a dynamic singer with a charismatic voice, and you can very clearly hear everything from her gentle whispers to her rapid-fire vibrato. And of course, there are the playful lyrics. Apple turns phrases with the best of them and does some delightful things with meter. Better Version Of Me opens with the line "The nickel dropped when I was on my way beyond the Rubicon." See also the chorus from that same song: "After all the folderol and hauling over coals..." Tymps (The Sick In The Head Song) has this great little turn: "To keep in touch would do me deep in Dutch." The subject matter is pretty typical for Apple's work: the uglier sides of relationships. Oh Well has her comparing a partner to "a hypnic jerk when I was just about settled" and lamenting "What wasted unconditional love." There's also an undercurrent of ire at audiences who only want "something familiar, something similar to what we know already" (Please Please Please). But even so, it manages to be an optimistic album, about taking the lumps and turning them into something positive. The closer, Waltz (Better Than Fine), has her instructing the listener: "If you don't have a date, celebrate, go out and sit on the lawn and do nothing."

It's really a remarkable record. It's a little challenging, but it's built on solid pop fundamentals and feels earnest and personal.

Further Listening: When The Pawn... is an excellent album and it would be on this list if not for my one-album-per-artist rule. The album that came after was The Idler Wheel... and it's okay. As for her debut, Tidal, I could never really get into it. Sleep To Dream was an unremarkable single, and while Criminal is a good song, but it's hard to separate from its scandalous music video. I mean, green shag carpeting, who does that?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Alexandra Rowland And Bad Faith Accusations

This morning, writing twitter was blown up by a post from Alexandra Rowland accusing Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear of some nasty manipulative behavior. I have reason to believe that Rowland is acting in bad faith.

Seven or eight years ago, Rowland and I were in the same writing group. I didn't know them well, but we became Facebook friends because that's what you do. At some point after we fell out of contact with each other, they made a post about an affair with an influential older male who had lied about being in an open marriage and proceeded to manipulate and gaslight and emotionally abuse them.

I didn't know any of the people involved other than Rowland, but I was affected enough by Rowland’s post that I can still recall reading it all these years later. So when I saw Rowland's blog this morning, I assumed it was the same situation... except the dates weren't right. The Bear/Lynch events took place in 2016, but the post I remembered was older than that. So I w…

100 Album: "Game Of Thrones Season 3 Soundtrack" by Ramin Djawadi

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Ramin Djawadi
Title:Game Of Thrones, Season 3 Soundtrack
Released: 2013
Genre: DAH duh, duh-duh-DAH duh, duh-duh-DAH duh


He's not as big a name as Hans Zimmer or John Williams or the various Newmans out there, but Ramin Djawadi is easily the most interesting composer working in television right now (with due respect to Bear McCreary). Soundtracks, especially television soundtracks because they're produced so quickly, have a tendency to serve more as a wall of atmosphere than anything else. But Djawadi's work here and on Westworld has generated some amazing musical themes. There's a strong undercurrent of leitmotif informing the way the music flows together and the themes those motifs are built around are damned catchy--which you know if you got the joke in the genre description above.

While all of the soundtracks for GoT are very listenable, this is my favorite. It has A Lannist…

My Recent Experience With Daily Science Fiction

Update: On March 3rd, they re-issued my story with a blanket apology to the subscribers for the error. In terms of fixing the original mistake, this feels both thorough and sincere. They have still not reached out or responded to me personally. If and when that changes, I will note it here.

Update: On March 21st, Jonathan apologized via email for the mixup. As far as I'm concerned, the matter is now settled.

If you follow Daily Science Fiction, then you probably saw this morning's email that started "Major glitches on the spaceship DSF" and you may be wondering what some of that was about. Well, this is what some of that was about.

So I recently had a story accepted by Daily Science Fiction called Marla Corbet: Living (With The Invaders). (I never got around to a formal announcement, so if you'd like to read it, you can find it here. It's a very silly thing about an ersatz Martha Stewart. And human hair. And alien poop. You'll love it.) It was accepted on …