Someone suggested that producing albums is like being
pregnant and giving birth--a long, ardent, and creative process which is
both painful and rewarding. Each new record bears the undeniable
mark of the musicians who bore it into the world. Ani DiFranco's latest,
the aptly-named Dilate, is her eighth effort since the 1990
release of her self-titled debut (and a beautiful creation besides). Though
DiFranco drags us through some new territory, the self-produced
album, as always, wears the markings of the Buffalo-based multitalent
who brought it to life.
From the opening track, DiFranco stands her ground as the
queen of no-fuss folk. "Untouchable Face" enters like a soft candle in a
dark room, the guitars flickering softly as DiFranco sings to a nameless
ex-lover, "Tell you the truth I prefer the worst of you/Too bad you had
to have a better half/She's not really my type." Despite its cozy feel,
the chorus burns: "Fuck you/and your untouchable face," DiFranco croons
in her best breathy soprano, subtle but clear as broken glass.
In fact, Dilate finds DiFranco returning to themes of
solitude and missed chances. Its second track, "Outta Me, Onto You"
is a chilling and furious track with shouts and low growls warning a
lover of impending devastation. DiFranco covers everything--from the
thrilling, rhythmic guitars to the rolling bass--except the drums
are played by Andy Stochansky, who makes every rhythm sound effortless and
wily. Stochansky reappears throughout the album, perfectly
complementing DiFranco's music, although he doesn't lend his voice to the album (something he did on DiFranco's previous works).
"Superhero" opens with a gorgeous bluegrass ramble which sets
the pace for its ambling storyline. "You've been gone exactly two
weeks/Two weeks and three days," DiFranco sings, pain and longing
evident in her rough, warm voice. "I used to be a superhero...You are
like a phone booth that I stumbled into/And now look at me, I am just
like everybody else." Her metaphors are clear and striking; love
changes us all, turns us into people who can resonate with the top 40
hits and Hallmark cards--and sometimes it's disgusting.
In the title track, DiFranco mirrors her life on the road against
her feelings of love for another. The guitars crash and tinkle, like
falling into bed from a great height, as she sings, "Life used to be life-like/Now
it's more like show biz/I wake up in the night and I don't know where
the bathroom is." "Shameless" breaches the subject of adultery in a
delightful, romping tune whose main characters are becoming
increasingly careless in their love affair.
DiFranco is a master at setting up scenes in her work, melding
lyrics and melody together, and "Done Wrong" is a perfect example.
It's told from within the haven of a coffeehouse on a cold, rainy New
York night; the steel guitar sidles in and shakes off its raincoat,
taking its place at the counter beside its acoustic mate; the drums tap their
feet on the welcome mat softly. DiFranco's soft voice pleads with a cold
lover, "How could you beg me to stay/Reach out your hands and
plead/And then pack up your eyes and run away/As soon as I agreed?"
Religion takes its turn on Dilate, emerging first in
DiFranco's rendition of "Amazing Grace." Even this most traditional of
songs is transformed into something new as she brings in everything
from churchbells to hammond organ. The first two verses are
conventional; later verses are done in a call-and-response fashion, with
a phoned-in voice prompting DiFranco's own vocals. In "Adam and
Eve," a woman comes into her own as her lover imagines their
relationship as that of God's first couple: "I am truly sorry about all
of this/I envy you your ignorance/I hear that it's bliss."
DiFranco reiterates her hearty musical independence on
"Napoleon," a song to a more-famous musician who's crossed over to
the major labels. "Will you miss your old friends/Once you've proven
what you're worth," she wonders. "When you're a big star, will you
miss the earth?"
It's this indie spirit which allows DiFranco to move at her own
pace, producing albums as quickly as she wishes, touring constantly
and remaining in close contact with her listeners. Despite the increase
in media interest, she hasn't sacrificed her integrity for something more
profitable. In the closing song on Dilate she explains,
"Everything I do is judged/And they mostly get it wrong/But oh well...
I do it for the joy it brings/Because I am a joyful girl." People don't
sell their children, after all--they hold onto them, nurture them and
release them as gifts to the world.