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New releases by Pearl Jam and Ani DiFranco play hide-and-seek with self-invented myths

For example, on her new album Little Plastic Castle, DiFranco devotes the song "Fuel" to ranting about America's cultural malaise ("Who's gonna be president/Tweedle dumb or tweedle dumber") like she's the first person to think of it. When she moans about "hearing that same damn song everywhere I go," she punctuates the thought with one of those rehearsed affected laughs that make her so grating at times.

Even when she writes about herself, she's inordinately concerned with the perceptions of her audience. "People talk about my image/Like I come in two dimensions/Like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind," she sings on the otherwise appealing title cut.

But DiFranco, unlike Vedder, has at least shown a willingness to expand her sonic vocabulary through the years. Both the title song and the haunting mood piece "Deep Dish" incorporate horns and ska rhythms to great effect, while the nostalgic "Two Little Girls" finds DiFranco emulating a train with a wondrous bent-note harmony vocal that calls to mind Pirates-era Rickie Lee Jones.

In fact, Little Plastic Castle offers evidence that DiFranco--who often denigrates her own studio work--has mastered the art of record-making, subtly enhancing her songs with clever sound effects and touches of unlikely instruments like pump organ and concertina. However cloying her narcissism can get, she shows an increasing willingness to let her music articulate what her words seem unable to. It's far from a perfect statement, but Little Plastic Castle, unlike Yield, sounds like the work of an artist who's still growing, a songwriter who'd rather consume her myth than be consumed by it.

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