Album Review: Fiona Apple—’Fetch The Bolt Cutters’

Posted: by The Editor

While people across the globe isolate themselves in their homes, nothing much has changed for Fiona Apple. She admitted as much in a recent video message to fans, ending it by wishing them a “happy quarantine.” Until the release of her new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, the only bursts of news fans heard from Apple were stories of how she’d been working on music while continuing to seldom leave her house. The result of that private work found its way out into a world as distant as the environment it was created in. Her first album since 2012’s flawless The Idler Wheel…, Bolt Cutters feels imbued with every emotion Apple has experienced in nearly a decade. 

The album’s title track is about being able to free oneself from a situation they aren’t happy in. In the context of global quarantine, the line “fetch the bolt cutters / I’ve been in here too long” feels like a distillation of everyone frantically waiting for the world to return to normal. Apple’s vocal delivery is at times amelodic, more spoken-word than her usual belt. She sounds knowing, as though she’s divulging sage wisdom. The record feels like a true creation of home recording right down to its unconventional instrumentation. The title track encapsulates this perfectly, with a homespun feel marked by drums that might be pots and pans in the kitchen, and barking dogs from the room over. While it might stir the listener, it’s musically one of the most relaxed moments on the record. 

Ever the accomplished pianist, Apple’s keys work overtime as “Shameika” bursts forth. Apple is never one to shy away from high octane jaunts, and she flies through verses about her troubles making friends with other girls at school. Like “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”, it’s a bit of the artist looking back at her life, much wiser than before. “Shameika” vacillates between Apple describing how she saw herself as a kid, to how those close to her see her now. One such description, “pissed off, funny, and warm,” manages to also capture the mood of the song.

While Apple made her mark early on in life with brooding music arranged mostly for piano, as her career has progressed, it’s become clear that perhaps the most interesting aspect of her arrangements lies in their percussion. There isn’t a single song on Fetch the Bolt Cutters where that notion doesn’t hold up. The best example of this though is how overwhelming the drums become on “Relay”. A song about resentment, Apple lets the lyrics relax a little, looping “Evil is a relay sport / When the one who’s burned / Turns to pass the torch” over and over, while her vocal delivery and the drums do the legwork. It’s a line she wrote at fifteen and carried with her until now. The bass drum booms and as the song grows it boils over into eerily ordered chaos. Keeping with the record’s “use what’s at hand” notion, some of the things played on the song are untraditional. At the peak of chaos, the rhythm seems built around what sounds like someone slamming a drawer full of forks. 

Much earlier in her career, Apple’s music was more apt to resonate with the music supervisor of adult-contemporary romantic comedies. There’s a good chance you’ve heard “Paper Bag” in at least one. “Cosmonauts,” arguably the peak of Bolt Cutters carries none of the light, accessible pop of her previous hits despite it being written for the soundtrack to the 2012 Judd Apatow movie This is 40. The song starts sweet and slinky, more in line with her early work. However, It doesn’t take long for it to veer off course, getting more frenzied by the second. At the song’s climax, the jazzy piano tune is enshrouded in banshee-like screams and muffled drums. Apple’s voice reaches a fever pitch, getting so loud the audio seems like it might be clipping. Her rage drops just as quickly as it began, as she repeats the song’s hook “We’ll be like a couple of cosmonauts / Except with way more gravity than when we started off” in a tone just above a whisper.

The most harrowing moment on the record is undoubtedly “For Her,” a song Apple wrote for a friend who opened up to her about being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood figure. She couldn’t come forward, so Apple expresses all of her friend’s rage and grief on her behalf. The song also contains references to the media treatment of Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings in June 2018. The song is truly unique; containing little else besides a stomp-and-clap percussive pattern. It bobs and weaves through several different melodies with each word flowing into the next, compacting in their power. 

Apple is in a league of her own not only in regards to her musical output but also in her public persona. Her press cycles are brief, but the more her fans learn, the more their love of her is emboldened. By spending so much time out of the public eye, she’s become a sort of Hailey’s Comet for music. The long wait between sightings only makes them feel more worthwhile. That’s likely part of why Fetch The Bolt Cutters has been met with such acclaim. In addition to being masterfully made, and deeply insightful, there’s a sense of wonder to it that only an artist as enigmatic as Fiona Apple can create. 


Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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