The release of Fiona Apple’s fourth album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, was a reminder to people like me — people who love her visible combination of emotional fortitude and fragility — of what she was like years ago. She was just as frail and beautiful then, before she established herself as a special, vulnerable sort of artist who’d stand the test of time (relatively speaking). Her MTV appeal belied a strength and musical prolificacy that precluded her from becoming a one-hit wonder.
Pompano-based beat producer Numonics (a.k.a. Jonathan Rosenfeld) felt this way, too, which is why the tracks on his five-song SMOKINGAPPLE — all of which feature samples strictly from The Idler Wheel — contain implicitly Apple’s visceral textures and intense range. Explains Rosenfeld, “I’ve been a fan of Fiona Apple since [her debut album] Tidal … I’ve always been appreciative of the emotional range in her singing as well as her abilities as a pianist.”
But why remix The Idler Wheel? Genuine fandom does not necessarily translate into a willingness to pay homage. But with a five-album discography, 10 years of experience as a hip-hop producer, and an eclectic set of interests, Numonics has the creative ability to fulfill any project he imagines. “I originally started by making trip-hop and drum and bass and that eventually morphed my career to a hip-hop producer,” Rosenfeld says of his background. “My style is a blend of sampling, synthesizers, and live instruments, as I play guitar and bass.” His re-produced version of The Idler Wheel was inspired by a conversation with fellow producer J57, of the Brown Bag AllStars: “He called me and mentioned the album came out, and I brought up the idea of remixing it. That same day I remixed five songs from the project.”
The complexity of both The Idler Wheel and Numonics’s previous work made SMOKINGAPPLE a fitting challenge. Asked if it was a difficult endeavor, Rosenfeld is blunt: “Yes and no. The Idler Wheel is a very abstract album, utilizing found sounds and offbeat percussion for most of the songs’ backings, and a lot of interesting, almost a-melodic melodies. That did provide a lot of difficulty and [it’s] the reason why I stopped at five tracks instead of remixing the whole album.”
To the songs he did rework, Rosenfeld took a subtle scalpel and, in the fashion of J. Dilla — hero to all [maybe] beat-makers everywhere — flipped them into hazy, catchy versions of their former selves: new ghosts that still incorporate all the emotions of their original bodies. “Feel Everything,” Numonics’s take on The Idler Wheel’s first single, “Every Single Night,” focuses on the line that, perhaps, encompasses the message of the song, of the album, of Apple herself. “Feel Everything” was one of the easiest on the album to craft, says Rosenfeld: “[It] came natural, since I figured out the note progression and laid down the same riff with guitar and bass.” But one need not get it twisted; these are poignant, tender little pieces, but they’re absolute bangers. “Do Anything” even evokes the aforementioned Jay Dee. It’s a special effort.