366 Songs 294: Hot Knife

I love the many ways in which “Hot Knife” – An appalling earworm, and one I should probably apologize for right now – sounds like it’s come from outside of time to bring you messages that don’t necessarily make sense just yet: The kettledrum, sounding like some old 1940s movie serial with a jungle theme, the piano that comes in and seems intentionally out of synch with the rest of the song, the multi-tracked vocals for the second verse, or the lyrical choices (“He excites me/Must be like the genesis of rhythm/I get feisty/Whenever I’m with him”). Everything feels like an element that’s exciting and interesting and a throwback to a different time period from everything else in the song, and that it should go together properly, but somehow, it does. This is a song in 4D, working at angles that we don’t even really comprehend. One of the standout tracks on Fiona Apple’s The Idler Wheel, which was already an album that was breathtaking in all the right ways.

366 Songs 258: Periphery

Ignoring the wonderfully loose, rolling piano riff, the charm of “Periphery” is Fiona Apple’s heart once again on her sleeve with cutting humor. “Oh, the periphery/They throw good parties there,” she bemoans, hiding her hurt at a lost lover (“I lost another one there/He found a prettier girl than me”) with a shield (“You let me down/I don’t even like you anymore at all”) that seems all the more devastating when it slips. Anyone who doesn’t understand what it feels like to say “All that loving must have been lacking something” is a very lucky person at all, all things considered. On an album that’s filled with honesty and self-awareness, this is a stand-out track even as it pretends to adopt the opposite tack.

366 Songs 194: Every Single Night

If ever a song made me want to give the artist a hug, this would be a strong contender for the that title. There’s such a vulnerability here, not only in the obvious moments (The fluttering “I just want to feel everything,” sung in such weightless tones, you worry that Fiona Apple is about to disappear before you), but the force behind the “Every single night is a fight with my brain,” with that last word drawn out with aggression and restrained anger. Add in the visualization of creativity as not only pregnancy (“These ideas of mine/Percolate the mind/Trickle down the spine/Swarm the belly, swelling to a blaze”) but a painful, difficult birth (“Brother, get back/Cause my breast’s gonna bust open/The rib is the shell and the heart is the yolk yoke/And I just made a meal for us both to choke on”), and there’re layers to pick through here, and all of this something to recognize with, empathize with and wish you could make it easier for her.

(That the instrumentation in the opening and closing so closely resembles something like a music box or child’s toy just underscores the intent of vulnerability; it’s sentimental and cheap, but it definitely works…)

366 Songs 193: Werewolf

There’s something consistently alluring about the way in which Fiona Apple’s vocals throw themselves around in a similar way to her lyrics. Listen to the swoop and the dive of her here, as she condemns a former lover and takes responsibility for her own culpability all at once (“I could liken you to a werewolf/The way you left me for dead/But I admit/That I provided a full moon”), or the sweep of her voice as she reaches “One thing leads to another…” and the note changes, weirdly comfortably as the piano drives beneath her. In many ways, this feels like the archetypal Apple song, smart, blunt, complex and just a little scattered. It’s honest, and yet disguised enough to keep the innocent unnamed. If only more confessional artists had such skill.