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Them Apples

"Extraordinary Machine" is well above average, and sometimes scintillating. Plus, a Feist postscript.

11:00 PM, Nov 10, 2005 • By DAVID SKINNER
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Like "Tymps," "Window" shows Apple under some novel influences, beginning with a rhythm line that sounds like sticks on clay pots. Breaking a window because she takes it as affecting her own clarity, Apple pours forth a less acidic complaint than usual, this one all the more knowing for its tacit admission that the singer is a head case. Just one of several spots where Apple's dramatic rendering has grown flexible, loose, and ironic in its still-very-early maturity. The "I" in these songs may even be reaching the level of generality where the listener is hearing something more universal than the particular moaning of this particular young woman.

Where Apple's anger steers her wrong is in the incoherent, unintentionally funny "Red, Red, Red" which would surely sound five times better if it had been sung in a foreign language. Several critics have singled out this track for its haunted beauty, but the lyrics being especially important with Apple and especially weak here; I have trouble not laughing at its heavy-handed symbolism long enough to really like this song.

"This is not about love / because I am not in love / In fact, I can't stop falling out" sings Apple on the second-to-last track in what might stand as a postlapsarian motto for her work. But it's more varied and textured than several critics allow. The fever and the lashing-out have given way to a deeper, wiser, and funnier Apple, whose wicked songwriting is finding an appropriately sophisticated sound to go along with it.

Postscript: The archness quotient is a bit higher in another CD I recently picked up, Let It Die by Feist, aka Leslie Feist, which was re-released this Spring by Interscope. The Canadian singer-songwriter is perhaps best known for her work with hipsters such as Broken Social Scene and Kings of Convenience, but her album is deserving of admiration far and wide. Over folksy strumming on the opening track "Gatekeeper," Feist twirls her bird-like voice up and down with a touch light enough to make Fiona Apple's eyes green with envy. (So Apple's are already green.) Feist also wrote about half the songs. The other half express a range of taste that one might call underrepresented in the adult alternative market. She covers both the Bee-Gees and Ron Sexsmith, who may have already replaced Leonard Cohen as Canada's coolest songwriter. Frenchy, folksy, sometimes disco, other times earthy. Feist would be annoying if she weren't so good.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.