Music

Ani DiFranco: Reprieve

Another year, another Ani album, this one finding our hero examining herself as much as she does the world around her.


Ani DiFranco

Reprieve

Label: Righteous Babe
US Release Date: 2006-08-08
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

It seems odd that Ani DiFranco's latest album Reprieve would begin with a gunshot, until you consider just how muffled and distant that gunshot is. Consider it as a violent expression quieted, and it becomes a perfect metaphor for the rest of Reprieve, an album that houses big ideas in humble packages, calls-to-arms, protests, and confused relationships presented in a quiet, laid-back, acoustic setting. As such, it's one of the few Ani albums for which one may not be able to form an immediate opinion -- these are songs that have to gestate, plant their seeds in your mind and let them grow to their full potential over the course of many, many listens. Reprieve may not court new members to the Church of Ani, but it may well be one of those albums that fans hold up as an underappreciated favorite in the years to come.

Don't worry, Ani's not going soft, it just sounds as though she's in a contemplative mood, thinking about the world around her more than simply reacting to it. Her topics of conversation are still the same as they ever were: Politics and relationships with a heavy dollop of feminism are represented here, sometimes more subtly than others, but almost always in a way that invites quiet contemplation rather than fist-waving agreement and calls to action. Rather than implore, Ani observes, and her messages are made all the more potent, if a bit harder to see, for it.

"I mean, to split yourself in two is just the most radical thing you can do / Goddess forbid that little Adam should grow so jealous of Eve / And in the face of the great farce of the nuclear age / Feminism ain't about equality, it's about reprieve", says Ani in the uncommonly powerful spoken word of the album's title track, and it's easy to see the broad implications of what she's saying, though she approaches her criticism in a rather indirect manner. It's a man's world, and those men and their testosterone-laced desire for bigger and faster and better is destroying that world. "Millenium Theatre", along with the album's most direct reference to her hurricane-forced recording shift from New Orleans to Buffalo ("New Orleans bides her time", she says repeatedly, in one line pointing out the absurdity of the lag time between disaster and response), contains the most pointed barbs at the government, allowing for lines like "Pull the coat tails out from under that little V.P. / Before he has a chance to get in the driver's seat." Still, more often, she settles for lines like "Dear friends, women and men / Please check my math once more / In the totality of all war's history / There's but one common denominator", and even as you know where she's going, she refrains from making it explicit.

Just as prominent as the political leanings, however, are her personal inclinations. "A Spade" details personal exploration in words like "I had to leave the house of conformity / In order to make art / I had to be more and less true / To learn to tell the two apart", showing a woman just beginning to find the "self" in herself. Relationships with loved ones ("Hypnotized", "Nicotine") and her own overwhelming numbness to emotion ("Half-Assed") also make appearances, the questions always outnumbering the answers as self-inquisition never quite leads to revelation.

This sense of exploration is evident in the musical arrangement of these songs as well, much of it perhaps due to the instrumental limitations (read: possibilities) thrust upon DiFranco by her necessary move from New Orleans to Buffalo in the middle of the recording process. You hear it in the vaguely incongruous, stuttery, and distant drums that appear halfway through "Hypnotize" (which then disappear just as quickly), you hear it in the various synthesized interludes of "Shroud", and you hear it in the near-industrial clickety-clack of the righteously excellent "Decree". Hearing the finished product, it's nearly impossible to think that it germinated in New Orleans with only Ani's guitar and the stand-up bass of Todd Sickafoose providing the instrumental backing, as the end result is far more rich and diverse than that more sparse setup could have dreamed. Surely the more minimal instrumentation would have carried with it its own charm, but to hear Reprieve as it is, it's nearly impossible to imagine it without the extra texture filling in the spaces.

From "In the Margins": "Sometimes I see myself through the eyes of a stray dog / From an alley across the street / And my whole mission just seems so finite / My whole saga just seems so cheap / And that's when your song calls to me..." It must be difficult for DiFranco to find any hope in a world like this one, a world where entire cities can be wiped out via forces of nature or forces of mankind in barely a blink. While she sees her government and her society as a bleak, self-congratulating patriarchy, however, she still manages to find some comfort in herself and those around her, the ones who make her listen, who ground her in the idea that she is human, and flawed, and beautiful. It is this comfort that has taken a little bit of the edge off of her anger, and allowed her the luxury of thought and contemplation as expressed in her music. It's beautiful, really, and well worth hearing, particularly if you've paid any attention at all to her artistic development up until this point. Ani is still Ani, that much is true, but she is a living human being, and she does grow -- with Reprieve, that growth is as obvious and as fascinating to watch as it has ever been.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.