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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ani DiFranco: Binary


1) Binary; 2) Pacifist's Lament; 3) Zizzing; 4) Play God; 5) Alrighty; 6) Telepathic; 7) Even More; 8) Spider; 9) Sasquatch; 10) Terrifying Sight; 11) Deferred Gratification.

Just three more years, and here is Ani DiFranco once again showing us how she has totally not forgotten the art of juggling a moderately pleasant and inventive record with a milk-curdling piece of soft-jazz doodling. Judging by the number of professional and amateur reviews that Binary got upon release, the quantity of people still on the lookout for a brand new Ani DiFranco record has probably decreased to a three-digit number at best, a two-one at the most probable — all the more ironic, considering how the lady has not lost her penchant for progressive preaching one single bit... it is simply not clear who she is preaching to at the moment.

Of the few reviews that did appear, not a single one bothered to say more than one sentence about the musical aspects of the record, and that is no surprise — they are non-descript. Ani plays with a full band throughout, but it does not help much. The musical emphasis is on groove rather than melody: tracks like ʽBinaryʼ, ʽPlay Godʼ, and some others are jazzy and funky, except that there is no true hotness to any of that funkiness. Everything is quiet, smooth, nocturnal, carefully played so as not to upset your neighbors — even the nasty-sounding wah-wah guitars, when pre­sent in the mix, are carefully brought down in the mix so that, God forbid, they overpower Ani's acoustic rhythm and semantically significant vocals.

Result: not a single memorable melody, not a single groove that would truly make you want to move, and a general feeling that every bit of string vibration here is just a coaster for the lyrical content — even if the backing band contains no less than ten different musicians, frequently adding string and bass overdubs. The sense of importance is further heightened by bringing in people such as Gail Ann Dorsey (best known as the bass player for the late David Bowie) and Justin Vernon (best known as The Log Cabin Monster) on backing vocals — each one for only one track, so as not to cheapen their symbolic value. (Something tells me, though, that Bon Iver audiences are not going to flock together in the direction of Ani DiFranco at the moment — they are probably not over their Kanye West phase yet). But this theoretical importance has no bearing on the general mood of the album, which is just dull.

Let us, therefore, just get this out of the system: the music here exists solely as a soft, atmospheric wrapping for the next batch of DiFranco's socially-conscious poetry. Is the poetry any good? Well, some of it is fairly flat: ʽPacifist's Lamentʼ is a bit too straightforward and predictable: "there is nothing harder than to stop in the middle of a battle and say you're sorry" sounds like something that the Dalai Lama must have probably already said at some time. ʽPlay Godʼ is a pro-choice statement that may be as relevant today as ever, but is delivered as a political mani­festo, not as a properly metaphorical work of art. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we get cryptic post-beatnik lyrical flows like ʽSpiderʼ that sound like they belong in some Greenwich Village cafe circa 1960 (I honestly have no idea what this one is about). In other words, not much has changed, as we are still on the same old progressive, feminist, anti-religious crusade: "Next time I watch a man give birth / I'll try to picture the creator as a dude with a beard" (ʽAlrightyʼ) is as deep as this stuff truly gets.

Although the album was released in June 2017, all of the songs were written and recorded prior to the elections of 2016, meaning that DiFranco's crusade takes place irrespective of the technical details of the political configuration — which, I believe, is a good thing. The bad thing is that I fail to see how this «tepid» approach to music-making can help her reach a wider audience than the one that has already been converted for a long time. These days, most likely, if you still listen to Ani DiFranco, you are already a progressively thinking, pro-feminist, pro-choice, anti-chau­vinist, anti-Trump, etc. etc. kind of person; do you really need an extra dose of that to help you get through the day? I certainly do not — so here's another thumbs down.

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