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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ani DiFranco: Reprieve


1) Hypnotized; 2) Subconscious; 3) In The Margins; 4) Nicotine; 5) Decree; 6) 78% H20; 7) Millennium Theater; 8) Half-Assed; 9) Reprieve; 10) A Spade; 11) Unrequited; 12) Shroud; 13) Reprise.

If, for some reason, your subconscious decrees to be hypnotized by Reprieve, a half-assed per­formance of Ani DiFranco's millen­nium theater that is 78% H20 and 22% shroud of nicotine, then it is well in the margins of remaining unrequited. That sentence takes care of all the songs on this album, with the exception of 'A Spade' which is exactly what this album is. A spade.

Since I am no longer capable of taking the lead while talking about Ani albums, let me restrict myself to a few personal, subjective, and — I confess — vindictive comments on this not-so-much informative as panegyric description from the site of Righteous Babe Records (who says Ani and her associates have not stooped to studying the tactics of The Enemy?):

"Every new album from singer/songwriter/guitarist Ani DiFranco gives listeners a reason to get excited about music all over again (well, I certainly AM excited about the number of times one single artist can fuck things up — G. S.), and Reprieve is certainly no exception. Across 12 tracks, DiFranco ignites more of her signature blend of poetry, politics and musicianship. (Yep, she ignites it all right, but how can anything that drenched with repetition, predictability, and lack of invention ever burn? — G. S.).

"Ani and touring bassist Todd Sickafoose (the guy's name is almost begging for some lame pun, but let us refrain from cheapness — G. S.) are the only two players on the new album — some­thing you'd never guess from its rich and detailed sound (almost an understatement in regards to a record on which about half of the songs feature nothing but acoustic guitar and vocals — G. S.). In addition to the usual array of acoustic and electric guitars for which she is justly noted, Ani can be heard on keyboards, drums, and other instruments ('can be heard' is right — you really have to work for it; I did spot some piano keys lightly pressed on a couple introductions, but I'm still looking for those goddamn drums — G. S.), while Todd contributes not only bass but wur­litzer, pump organ, piano and "fakey-bakey" trumpet and strings (Yes, I DID wonder about whose idea it was to embellish the signature acoustic boredom with all sorts of "fakey-bakey" toilet noises. Maybe the puns SHOULD start coming, after all — G. S.).

"The album was tracked in her New Orleans studio in early 2005 during a break in her usually heavy touring schedule. Forced to leave the master recordings behind when she evacuated before Hurricane Katrina, she drove back into the city to retrieve them just three days after the levees broke. (In a self-sacrificial act of political bravery, no doubt. Goddammit, here is ONE good thing that could have come out from Hurricane Katrina and — obviously, the pun mood is upon me — she just blew it — G. S.). From there she headed back to overdub in her hometown of Buf­falo with whatever instruments happened to be on hand. Chief among them a vintage omnichord and a modern "cheesy synthesizer" which entailed "trying to use uncool sounds in cool ways," as she puts it (Come now, Ms. DiFranco, why don't you leave "cheesy synthesizers" and "vintage omnichords" to the likes of Animal Collective. You generally have big trouble using cool sounds in cool ways, as you have showed time and time over again with your jazz career; what makes you think 'uncool' sounds will fare any better? — G. S.).

"Between the forced evacuation and the time off on the road, Ani found herself concentrating on the process of recording to a degree she had never done before, and the resulting album is the clearest demonstration yet of her talents as a producer (Who the heck had the nerve to write this crap? Her "talents as a producer" — are you kidding me? Since when does overdubbing a few electronic farts over an acoustic melody count as "producing"? — G. S.). Unconstrained by the pressures of touring, she was able to take her time with the record, and the end result is an overall sound that is as clear and succinct as her lyrics have always been (I like the "unconstrained" bit — as if somebody were actually constraining the lady into touring. She is her own boss, isn't she? And I seriously doubt that even a vintage fan will clearly perceive Reprieve as 'that particular re­cord that she, like, REALLY took her time with' — G. S.).

"While not intended to be taken as a concept album in any way, the songs on Reprieve do pro­vide a cohesive picture of what’s been on Ani’s mind lately during turbulent times on the per­so­nal, cultural, and global front (With Ani, times are always turbulent, and usually turbulent in the exact same ways; this sentence easily applies to any given album in her career — G. S.). From the opening encounter of “Hypnotized” to the call to action against patriarchy in the spoken-word title track to the conflict between “the house of conformity” and the ability to make art in the final song, “Shroud,” this is classic Ani territory (Indeed, and she sticks to it faithfully. I do realize that the question 'how many more calls to action against patriarchy does one person need from another one?' provokes the obligatory answer 'as many as it takes to finally goad one into action', but surely something is not working too well if so many calls to action have provoked so little response? Maybe it's the wrong playground? Maybe she ought to have a run at the Senate, already? — G. S.). It’s a place where individual songs can’t be easily separated into “personal” and “political” categories, because those concerns inevitably overlap in complex and nuanced ways (Obviously, if you let politics into your personal life, the two will overlap. But it usually makes for rather bad art, not to mention increasing the risk of psychiatric problems — G. S.).

"Ani describes Reprieve as rooted in the Crescent City (This woman really works in strange and mysterious ways. But maybe she meant Crescent City, Illinois? According to the latest census, it has 631 inhabitants, and, since this must be just about the total number of people that would love this album, a connection is possible — G. S.), and it so happens that there’s a single direct re­fe­rence to that town in the album’s centerpiece, “Millennium Theater.” The line “New Orleans bi­des her time” in the middle of this scathing critique of the current Republican regime might sound like a response to Hurricane Katrina, but in fact the song was written well before the disaster that has devastated the city, about a crisis that took no one but the presidential ad­ministration by sur­prise (How fortunate, a cute little coincidence that gives one something to write about when there is nothing to write about. 'The album's centerpiece'? I honestly thought it was one of the blandest throwaways — G. S.). Like just about everything else on Reprieve, “Millennium Theater” finds Ani speaking her mind, singing from her heart, and playing music like her life — like all of our lives — depended on it (Look, I have nothing against Ani speaking her mind, singing from her heart, and playing like her life depended on it, but leave ME out of this, won't you? If my life de­pended on an album like this, I'd have to be committed — G. S.).

Well, at least you, the reader, cannot complain now: you've heard it from both sides. Make your choice now or forever hold your peace. Mine, of course, is a decisive thumbs down. In fact, against my rules, I honestly could not stand more than two listens. Somebody sign this woman to Hollywood Records, please. Make Diane Warren write her songs for her.

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