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Ani DiFranco - Unprecedented Sh!t (Album Review)

Thursday, 06 June 2024 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Danny Clinch

Perhaps unsurprisingly given its title, ‘Unprecedented Sh!t’ finds Ani DiFranco in a spiky and experimental mood, offering up a record of scraggly guitars, chunky production and direct-ish lyricism. It’s a highly listenable turn from a writer whose impressive career — she founded her own label at 19, in 1989 — has often been underscored by folksy urgency and political activism.

There are some very nice moments here. Baby Roe is a spare toe tapper that builds from Reznor-Ross industrialism into a kind of folk-rock fugue, and then suddenly ends. It’s a weird but attractive song. 

Broadly, this is music that falls through the generic cracks between the US and UK — it doesn’t sit neatly in any category, but it feels both very commercial and non-commercial, like Charlie Winston or Tune-Yards. 

The Thing at Hand is another memorable cut. Here a low, tubular accompaniment is adorned by DiFranco’s truth-telling lyricism. Her singing style here feels throwback, channelling the righteous queer poetry of the 1990s, something DiFranco herself led on, alongside some quite banal observations.

Perhaps not banal, but certainly watered down. “I’m not Black or white or grey / I’m not he or she or they [...] I’m just me.” Laudable, personal and relatable songwriting, sure, but you sort of want an artist to be kicking on lyrically at this point.

One of the standouts is You Forgot to Speak. It’s a drifting ballad with lilting melodies and some nice set dressing. The production, handled by BJ Burton, is excellent throughout. Across the album’s 11tracks, there is a rich tapestry of sequenced samples and backward patches, giving the music an avant-garde feel. 

It’s quite an underused style of working in popular music for two reasons — one is that reversing samples nearly always sounds strange and arresting, especially if you are using unusual textures in the first place. The second reason is because it ages well, just how think about how strikingly modern Tomorrow Never Knows by the Beatles, or Let Forever Be by The Chemical Brothers, still sound. Anyway, this album is pretty good.


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