Every Fiona Apple album has been sharper and more abrasive than the last, while remaining true to her characteristic hybrid of folk singer-songwriter conventions and vaudevillian musical comedy.
Every year, the Village Voice holds an annual poll, inviting nearly every critic in the biz to vote on the best albums and singles of the given year. Because of its size, it’s generally the best way to measure yearly progress in pop music: the numbers actually mean something. The thing is huge; 493 critics voted in 2012. Although there’s less change than I would have liked, there’s been definite progress since last year. The 2011 Pazz & Jop albums chart contained only one major album, a collaboration between two artists who have both done better work elsewhere. The singles chart alternated between arty album tracks and crass pop-rap rampages beloved by opportunists always on the lookout for new ways to one-up their colleagues. What made it onto Pazz & Jop last year was not what people really loved, but what they didn’t hate, the result of a standoff between the ideologically opposed magazines Rolling Stone and Pitchfork – the winners were the albums mediocre enough to survive. Rather than a consensus, I thought, we had a lack of consensus.
I hate to say this after Obama’s reelection, but my faith in popular taste has been shaken a little: except for Fiona Apple, none of the biggest sellers this month are worth your time. You could think of these records as the music industry’s way of stealing your money. Or you could simply refuse to buy them. BitTorrent, the world needs you.