Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


The Fiona Apple album, Extraordinary Machine, has been held up for a long time due to various issues, ranging from charges of unmarketability to obvious problems in editing and quality.

I wrote about it in an earlier post (below my liberal arts rant), in which I hightlight the album's desire to experiment, especially with brass instruments and a Big Band sound, but at a cost of hiding both Fiona's vocals and an overall loss in musicality. Several songs could have been salvaged with a mere tempo change midway through the song or a crescendo at a climactic moment.

Jon Brion, who was supposed to produce the album initially, did not do a very good job bringing Fiona's voice through the music at all, instead choosing to literally accentuate the singer's voice with bells and whistles that distracted the listener from both the lyrics and Ms. Apple's voice. The initial version of the album seemed to stay on one dynamic for the entire CD, and for the first time in any of her albums, I found myself bored by Fiona's voice.

The new release, which is supposed to actually hit the markets in a couple of days (Oct 4), is much more successful. Gone are much of the brass and synthesizer sounds that made the album often sound like something from the movie The Untouchables or the videogame Alice.

The bass lines in most of the songs are much stronger, often with a hip-hop feel (which is not surprising, as the person brought in to re-mix the album has Dr. Dre on his resume). Often, all it took to make the songs sound better were better introductions and solo sections, as is evident in the song Better Version Furthermore, the original version of the album suffered because for all its experimentation, it only experimented with one sound. This made for a rather boring album, as once you got the point of the experiment, which came for me around the third song, the rest of the album kind of lost its way. The new version gets rid of the Big Band Jazz sound in a couple of ballads and encorporates a hip-hop beat in some other songs, making the album more interesting as a whole. If they were worried about coherence before, the album is still plenty coherent, as Ms. Apple's voice is still very strong and unmistakable. Several of the vocal tracks have been re-laid with much success, as someone had the brilliant idea to incorporate some well-timed decrescendos and syncopations to break up the monotony of the songs.

For instance, the song Window was extremely weak on the old version - it didn't inspire very much with Fiona's voice, and it didn't move very much from a lyrical or dynamic standpoint. With the remix, the are several variations on the chorus which create a stronger sense of flow throughtout the song, from the quirky beginning, featuring very interesting synthesizer and percussion work, to the climax of the song, in which Fiona's voice is allowed to break through. Some of the experimentation remains in the burst of strings and brass, but it works much more effectively in the background. The old version really just went straight for the top and didn't come down.

With a song like Tymps, the new version is completely different for the first 20 seconds, as the new mix plays with a xylophone introduction and eases the listener into the song. The song is very bare for the first minute and a half, featuring only Fiona's voice, the continued xylophones and a strong bass beat, until it explodes in a burst of synthesized organ and jazz riffs. The top-hat is used to excellent effect to end the rising phase, and the song settles back down to the chorus. With the more professional orchestration, Fiona's voice works much better as well.

The album does sound more "mainstream" due to the more recognizable beats, but it would take a lot to convince me that there were too many creative sacrifices to re-mix it and even more to convince me that any of the sacrifices were a bad thing. Even though some of the hip-hop staples that help hold the songs together are evident, it's really a huge improvement over the old version.

The song Red Red Red on first mix barely sounded like a song - it was too fast and the lyrics didn't jump at all because the only memorable part of the song was Fiona singing how she sees "Red, Red, Red" louder and louder as she was accompanied by a percussion line that also increased in volume. The new mix takes the out-of-place strings and turns the song into more of a ballad. I actually distinguished and was amused by the color imagery in the first line, as well as the lyrics "Don't understand diamonds and why men buy them. What's so special about diamonds besides the mining?"

My favorite song from the old version, and incidentally also the only one I would actually listen to or put on a mix tape, Oh Well, is more languid, and the piano is allowed to resonate more, which serves to bring out Fiona's vocal anger at about the third minute of the song. Also, you understand why the song is called Oh Well - at the end of the song, after her outburst of anger, she sighs "oh well." This is brought out much more in the newer version, and really makes the song into more of a story and a complete song.

"Extraordinary Machine," one of the tracks that was leaked to radio station way back in March, seems to have been kept pretty much the same. This is a pity, as it still isn't very strong, and now seems out of place on the CD. The fact that it sticks out is worse because it's the title track. But for the most part, this CD is definitely a "Better Version" of the old one.


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