JOPLIN, Mo. —
Fiona Apple: ‘The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do’
I do think this is, without a doubt, the best album of the year.
More than 15 years into her career, Apple has distilled how it feels to live inside her skin into 10 songs. Not only are her lyrics at turns ornate and direct as the emotional mood requires, but her musical language feels uniquely her own.
Stripped of long-time producer Jon Brion’s orchestration, “The Idler Wheel” is her sparest, rawest album, the one she must fully inhabits, and her best in a career already full of highlights.
Frank Ocean: ‘Channel Orange’
This was my most-anticipated album of the year, and it lived up to my expectations: an uncommonly smooth and sympathetic R&B album born of impressive ambition.
Here’s what I wrote about it in August: “‘Channel Orange’ brings together many strains of black music combining the 21st-century confessional quality of Drake with the idiosyncrasy of D’Angelo and the genre-bending (and falsetto) of Prince. The album, however, has been compared most often to Marvin Gaye’s bizarre 1978 masterpiece ‘Here, My Dear,’ probably because both are ruthlessly personal works of art.”
Taylor Swift: ‘Red’
Shortly after its release in November, my initial appraisal of the fourth album by the young superstar was mixed, and my central criticism that it doesn’t hang together as an album as well as her previous efforts still stands. But as a collection of sharp, pleasurable pop songs that withstand repeated listens, it’s phenomenal.
The three songs touched by pop impresario Max Martin are the crowd favorites Ñ “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22” Ñ but there’s also the propulsive, almost indie rock of “Holy Ground,” finely observed torch song “All Too Well” and stadium rocker “State of Grace.” Swift offers up a little something for everyone.