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Written prior to the 2016 election, the songs on Binary are prescient of the current political situation in America. Ani tackles the challenge and necessity of teaching non-violence with “Pacifist’s Lament” and the need for empathy in “Terrifying Sight.” “Play God,” a rallying cry for reproductive rights, is currently playing out in Congress. And on the title track, DiFranco reveals the larger meaning of the album. “This binary principle is echoed throughout our bodies, “ Ani notes. “With one ear, we “hear” but only with two ears can we perceive the full spectrum of depth and position. This idea that refuses now to let me go; that nothing can truly exist except in relationship with something else, is where this song and this album are coming from.”
The backbone of Binary’s sound is DiFranco’s long-time rhythm section of bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Terence Higgins, but on much of the album, the trio is augmented with some all-star guests. Virtuoso violinist Jenny Scheinman and keyboard wizard Ivan Neville both join in for more than half of the record. Other contributors include the legendary Maceo Parker, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, and Gail Ann Dorsey, longtime bassist for David Bowie. New Orleans resident DiFranco takes special pride in the Crescent City funk spearheaded by natives Higgins and Neville on a number of the tunes. “Their souls are of this place,” she says. “The feel they bring is something they got in utero.” When it came time to mix Ani turned things over to Tchad Blake (The Black Keys, Pearl Jam), the result a bold sonic imprint elevating the songs to a new level in her canon.