Sunday, April 19, 2020

Review: Fetch the Bolt Cutters • Fiona Apple

Fiona Apple has been more prepared than most to release a record during a global lockdown. Quick to voice her distaste for most elements attached to public life and her resentment toward fame, she wrote her own terms early in her 25-year music career. Even with near universal admiration from mainstream critics and genuine curiosity from profile writers, she keeps her distance from legacy press and isn’t all that concerned with success. In fact, she was relieved to have won a fight with her record label to move her newest album’s release into the thick of the coronavirus pandemic: “I’m not going to have to do all the press that I don’t want to do, all this stuff that was making me drag my feet,” she told Vulture just before she dropped Fetch the Bolt Cutters, her first record in eight years.

Released years apart between 1995 and 2012, her first four records captured the archetypal sad girl amid lifelong catharsis – each one billed as her best work yet upon release, but none bringing closure to ongoing catastrophe. Fetch the Bolt Cutters isn’t the typical Fiona Apple record in that regard. Recorded and self-produced in her house, it matches the homebody that Apple always has been – and that we have all been forced to become. Both a self-aware humorist and an improvisational vocalist, she cobbles makeshift recordings into striking tunes that expand far beyond her piano-based art pop blueprint. Its opening track spirals into ad-libbed nonsensical throat noises, and loud dogs crave their owner’s attention behind the metallic clangs and lounge keys of the album’s liberating namesake. “For Her” carries itself like a tongue-twisting playground singalong until the record’s most provocative declaration sparks an unexpected contrast: “Good morning. You raped me in the same bed your daughter was born in.”

Throughout “Drumset,” it’s easy to imagine Apple in the corner, staring toward the rug that a missing drum kit once occupied and chuckling about her own obsession with its disappearance. Ironically, Apple’s use of textured percussion undoubtedly amplifies this record’s perpetual chants. From grade school bullies to recent break-ups, Apple’s fixations are set to interesting phrasing and loops that carry into hypnosis. “Evil is a relay sport where the one who’s burnt turns to pass the torch,” she chants over the deep, tribal drumbeat of “Relay.” She wrote the phrase at age 15 and shelved it until now, when she tied it into a spiraling rage over idealism: “I resent you presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brochure.” Written while Apple was held in jail on a drug possession, “On I Go” is a defiant wartime hymn for autonomy. Still driving a melody into a infinite loop, she makes one point clear: “Now, I only move to move.” Damn straight!

Apple cuts into a primal heartbeat on “Heavy Balloon,” shaking loose from depression’s grip with an outburst: “I spread like strawberries. I climb like peas and beans.” If not for the title track, the similes for her self-nurturing would have acted as the record’s de facto mission statement. Despite its abrupt twists and blatant imperfections, Fetch the Bolt Cutters feels more homegrown than spontaneous by its end, having established a complex root system of heavy percussion, expressive vocal deliveries, organic household clatter, and flat-out brutal bluntness. With the sharpest, most interesting songwriting of her career, she unleashes a record that has waited not just eight years, but an entire lifetime to be made. Fetch the bolt cutters, indeed.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is available now under Epic Records.

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