Sounds like: Nina Simone as a white product of ’90s pop.
For fans of: Patti Smith, Tori Amos, Rufus Wainwright; music with equal parts brain, heart and fingers.
Latest release: The Idler Wheel... is perhaps Apple’s barest, most characteristic album yet. She allows her voice to break many times throughout its course, letting her past experiences and pains seep through the cracks, and the mood varies wildly while engaging throughout.
Why you care: Apple’s steamy contralto, when combined with her finger-breaking piano skills, is enchanting at the least and debilitating at the most. She first exploded into national consciousness with “Criminal”—a naughty, torchy number that is doubly so considering she was only 19 years old upon its release. Since then, she has released ingenious music on her own timeline and according to her own rules: Apple went on hiatus following both When the Pawn… (1999) and Extraordinary Machine (2005), and her sprawling songs defy genre by mixing innumerable influences at every turn. Apple exists slightly outside of explanation, and it’s evident in the company she keeps: She’s friends with oddball comedian Zach Galifianakis (see the 2005 video for “Not About Love”), dated odder-ball magician David Blaine, and was cited as one of oddest-ball rapper Kanye West’s biggest influences (he said Extraordinary Machine made him want to be the “hip-hop Fiona Apple”). “I just want to feel everything,” she warbles on The Idler Wheel..., and Apple may just have reached her goal in her music.