After a long hard look into 2012 Folk albums, I began to realize the lack of releases scheduled for this year. With Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes releasing major albums in 2011, it left available space for the veteran songwriter Leonard Cohen to take centre stage with his album and Ani DiFranco with her seventeenth effort. The feminist icon returns after a four year absence since 2008's Red Letter year. She has released a string of prosperous albums in the 00's amounting a hefty amount of independent Folk material. The album is entitled 'Which Side Are You On?', which is also the name of the third track. This title has been taken from a Florence Reece song of the same name, re-written by AniDifranco featuring banjo by Folk legend, Pete Seeger.
The enigmatic opening, 'Life Boat', brings to light a sparse, lubricated sound to the album. Instead of the dense electric guitar fans may be used to, we're exposed with raw acoustic guitar and right sided twinges on upright bass. The sound is very fulling as her distinctive vocals take focus with real passion. It's a smooth sound which is a common theme for this album, so far, so good.
Ani Difranco gives a stylistic, poet vocal on the second track 'Unworry'. The song is very fast paced and features sparse drumming with raw electric guitar riffs on the left with upright bass on the right. The lyrical theme is very independent towards Ani DiFranco. Lot's of references to politics and the current state of civilization. The track is very easy listening and incredibly mainstream-esque. It sounds remarkably like a Dido/PJ Harvey mash-up.
'Which Side Are You On?' begins with banjo performed by the aforementioned Folk legend, Pete Seeger. He adds his touch with supporting vocals. Ani sings passionately about politics as the instrumental speeds up with an appetising guitar riff and marching styled drums. The track is a standout on the album and the repeated phrase of "Which side are you on now?" only captivates the anarchist, rebellious style the song portrays.
As with many albums, the level of memorable content drops after the first few tracks. This is a common trend in Ani DiFranco's previous material. Don't be alarmed, the album doest completely smoothed out into Folk obscurity and Adult Contemporary nonsense, it actually improves lyrically, which gives the listener something to focus on other than a decent sounding instrumental. The sparkling 'Splinter', allows Ani DiFranco to express her childlike vocals and sharp vocal delivery. The instrumental is very itchy, with shivering percussion and left sided guitar work. Again DiFranco expresses her softer touch on 'Promiscuity'. The song has fast paced vocals with a distinctive drumming pattern with various percussion breaks and dynamical changes.
The sweet melody and reverberated piano notes in 'Albacore' leave me breathless. The pure beauty in sound goes hand in hand with the astounding lyrics. The string work towards the later half of the track are very wild and could be used in numerous animated soundtracks for Pixar. Following this, 'J' enters with a funky vibe and ever present left sided guitar. I adore the soft breakdowns and upright brass here. The song does pass lightly over the ear without anything too overpowering or light. It's a general album track with strong lyrics and a decent instrumental.
I sense a Cat Power, slowcore feel towards the final tracks on this album. The slower, sadder and more melodic tracks bring emotion into action. Ani DiFranco has taken her time writing these songs, this does show through in these closing songs. 'Hearse' is as sad as the name suggests. The weak guitar riff works well with the followed up string arrangement to the right, with Ani DiFranco giving her all, helpess vocal. Again we hear heartfelt lyrics on the agonisingly beautiful 'Mariachi'. The vocals are very distinctive on this track, strengthening a strong guitar progression.
The dark and twisted 'Amendment' brings out the problematic visions of diversity, civil rights, abortions and everything related to the treatment of women. Sure, it's a decent instrumental with a nice smooth chorus, but it's not my cup of tea lyrically. In my opinion, it's a little bias towards human rights. I do love her vocals and she means what she sings which is something hard to come by in today's music output. The album ends with the slow 'Zoo'. It has several notable lyrical references to society and personal grievances. I love her vocal effort which has a sense of hurting and disbelief. The guitar riff is satisfying and the bass is used magnificently well to end the album on a sad note.