I'm not going to tell you about one of the best female emcees ever to cross these ears. I'm going to tell you about one of the best emcees—period. She's been a quiet Chicago secret, on the lips of only the well-versed since her 2002 release, Bio:Chemistry, named for her major at the University of Illinois. But this, her first disc on the Rhymesayers label, is about to run that secret through an amplifier and pitch it to the rafters. She's restless. She's clever. She varies the rhythms of her flows, something that seems to be an afterthought for even the best of emcees.
Again and again, 23 times as best I can tell, DiFranco splits herself open to deliver the best of what she's got. It's usually pretty good, all glistening guts and honesty. She began recording this one in New Orleans with bassist Todd Sickafoose. Then Katrina crushed the city. Back in Buffalo, she used whatever instruments she hadn't left in Louisiana to finish the album, which means the result is a grimey, chunky blend of bare acoustic sounds and tweaked synths. It's not as spunky and funky as Evolve, nor as dissonant and disassociated as Educated Guess. Reprieve congeals, though it feels more like a bridge than a destination.
With its shy pacing and rounded textures, this sophomore effort from critical darlings Midlake would serve as a great backdrop for an offbeat flick about quirky characters working through numbness and old pains. I can almost see the slightly sped-up sequences of healing as the singers harmonize the refrain "I think I'm at hooooome" or "It's hard for me but I'm trying." The vocal work harkens back to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, invoking that old ’70s folk-rock sound, complete with flute. It's really lovely, uplifting work, distinctive in its sincerity from the litany of indie music coming out these days.