Review Summary: A beautiful collection of strong, politically-charged lyrics, wild fingerpicking guitar work, and insight that can only come from Ani DiFranco herself. A righteous album from a righteous babe.
Ani DiFranco’s contribution to the indie folk-scene is considerable. In addition to her powerful political lyrics laced with egalitarian principles, her wild, diverse guitar playing and her original songwriting skills, she encompasses almost any genre of music ranging from jazz to rock. Although Ani DiFranco is a more obscure artist by mainstream standards, her fan base is ample. By maintaining her own record label (Righteous Babe Records), she pursues her loyalty to her music in each album she produces. Reprieve, the follow-up to her 2005 Knuckle Down, is no exception.
Reprieve is Miss. DiFranco’s most recent studio effort, and what an effort it is. Her lyrics are potent and dense; they include topics such as love, and frustration, and even more pragmatic issues such as media desensitization, patriarchy, the American gov’t, and human struggle.
Ani’s vocals are gorgeous on this album. Although, she is not a talented singer in the sense that she can reach multiple octaves or project like a trained vocalist, she knows how to use her voice creatively.
Although Ani's playing is one of her trademarks, she breaks tradition by evolving like a chameleon guitarist, altering her style. Reprieve captures some of her best guitar work, it moves along a spectrum that Ani herself has invented; the spectrum consists of slow, lazy jazz melody on one end and powerful, passionate rock resonance on the other. She changes keys often and exemplifies that she can be both a creative and technical guitarist.
Each song on this album deserves a careful listen, because each provides insight into life, and art:
1. Hypnotize 4:11.
The album opens with a progressive bass riff from Todd Sickafoose, which sounds like he has put the bass into a hypnotic state itself. Ani’s guitar drones in with a gentle grace. The strange offbeat that comes in around 2:40 provides an appropriate chaos in the slow droll of the instruments and vocals. Hypnotize ends abruptly, much like hypnosis. Although this song lacks an image complex in relevance to the themes of the album and is abstract in a lot of ways, it is nonetheless stunning. 4.5/5
2. Subconscious 3:32.
Subconscious begins with Ani playing random notes on her guitar. She then moves into a catchy, rhythm-driven riff that guides the song. Todd’s bass echoes out stagnantly from what seems like distances away, but it creates a bold, down-to-earth grounding. Subconscious is catchy, and is one song to draw a lot of non-Ani fans into her music, it pursues the domesticity extreme of this album and provides a diverse smorg-as-bord of sounds. 5/5
3. In the Margins 3:13.
Ani’s audacious riff flies out of the speakers like a bird, while the piano and bass (among other instruments) stand back and let Ani take the lead. Todd plays the Wurlitzer in this song – a brand of organ, and it adds a beautiful lucid quality. In the Margins is a beautiful song lyrically; it captures an essence of the natural world, with a head-on collision with the domestic. This song moves through an image complex of books and writing. The vocals are mediocre, and the key changes aren’t as entertaining as other songs. The lyrics are however, compelling, and the music reflects them. 4/5
This song begins with some hand-drums and some ambient noise, leading straight up to Ani’s guitar and vocals. The guitar is more simple than some of her other guitar work. The lyrics are somewhat lacking in this song; they are very repetitive, mimicking the guitar. Nicotine doesn’t fit the thematic template that Ani has created, until the end where the song ends with a lulling sound of rain and birds. 4/5
5. Decree 3:43.
Decree is the most powerful song on this album. It begins with a heaving sound almost like a forced breathing (the pump organ played by Todd). The sound is completely eerie. The chorus is catchy and strong. Lyrically this song is amazing. The lyrics talk about the media desensitization of America. They delve into how people’s views of the media are corrupting America with some of the most thought-provoking, political lines on the album: “while the stars are going out/ and the stripes are getting bent.” 5/5
6. 78% H2O 3:30.
Another song where Ani’s guitar is simple, and Todd’s bass follows the guitar with blunt notes. The Wulitzer is also played here. Lyrically, this song is not the greatest, it speaks about how connected people inherently are to the natural world. The last few lines are the most profound: “but we are 78% percent water/ even our pumping hearts." 3.5/5
7. Millenium Theater 3:14.
This song is going to be one that is under-rated by a lot of this album’s critics. Ani’s bass-driven guitar resonates, as the notes snap out like a fierce creature. Millenium Theater is extremely political. It talks about the political structure of America and how we're meant to perceive it, as well as the propaganda that spawned from this structure. 4.5/5
8. Half-Assed 3:30.
The guitar work in half-assed is very complex, almost indescribable. The lyrics are chaotic, although very vivid with imagery, and pleasing to sing along with. It is one of the more catchy, beautiful songs on the album; definitely a deserves an open-minded listen. 5/5
9. Reprieve 2:45.
The album is titled after this piece for good reason. This is a poem accompanied by some high-octave guitar playing, slow-moving guitar and some stringed instrument in the background. The words really fuel this piece, and they explore areas like: nuclear warfare, patriarchy, sexuality, and she even talks about the dichotomies of domesticity vs. nature and how patriarchy vs. feminism exists in the world. 5/5
10. A Spade 4:24.
A Spade begins with a direct guitar piece by Ani, one that is quite repetitive. A clanging, psychedelic sound comes into the song later on, and an organ plays throughout, giving the song a lot of texture. This song talks about feminism, directing the issue at both men and women. She sings about how art should pursue the task of educating men and women about this cause. 4/5
11. Unrequited 4:06.
This is a heart-break kind of love song. The soft guitar work, with Ani’s almost-harmonic sections, and the strange sounds in the background pursue a sad tone. The lyrics are sentimental and self-indulgent, unlike most of Ani’s work. Although it’s a nice change, and really helps to capture Ani’s diversity of songwriting. 3.5/5
12. Shroud 4:48.
The guitar is crazed in this song. It has an Eastern sound to it and expresses Ani’s assorted playing style. These lyrics are a nice wrap-up to the album’s voice. Shroud is a graceful, humble song, and really speaks volumes about Ani’s work. It provides a beautiful lens to view the world through and is not idealistic in any sense. 4.5/5
13. Reprise 1:34.
An instrumental. This song makes a circular motion back to Hypnotized as it has the same feeling as the intro song. It is a simply gorgeous collaboration between the piano, and guitar. 4/5
In Reprieve Ani has taken a much more mellow turn in comparison to her earlier, rock-indie-folk woman days, thus standing a jazzier, more contemporary stance. She occupies a significant portion of musical genres, including progressive, folk, jazz, blues, experimental, rock and classical.
Although Ani has seemed to calm down a lot from her former wild days, she brings a mature, stylish album to the public that will be spun over and over in my cd player. Simply beautiful. Album rating: 4.5/5
Subconscious, Decree, Half-Assed and Reprieve