Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters.
Not a day goes by on the internet — now, for many of us, our only connection to the world outside our homes — where we aren’t abuzz trying to derive Meaning from this quarantine. The crumbling and ass-showing of an already fickle, cruel, and sham American establishment hums louder in the background each day, while we try to convince ourselves that our sourdough starters might save us from the immense internal pain and grief we collectively feel, to varying degrees. One thing is apparent: There is no “making sense” of this, but perhaps there’s release. Luckily, one of the greatest living artists of our time, Fiona Apple, has built a career out of writing bibles for cathartic releases of relentless pain, trauma, and patriarchy. But on her new album, she’s packaged it all into her most visceral and unhinged album to date, and transformed it all into personal liberation.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters is Fiona Apple’s fifth studio album and her first in eight years since 2012’s The Idler Wheel. It’s the sound of a woman freeing herself from the constraints of form, expectation, and establishment — burning everything down to make a profoundly singular work unlike anything that’s ever existed.
Apple, who’s been known not to leave the Venice Beach home where she’s been living since 2000 with any frequency, created Fetch the Bolt Cutters sound out of found resources and the trappings of her home environment. The album features Fiona stomping on the ground, the meow of a supermodel, up to five different dogs barking, banging on the walls, chants, claps, bells, and a stove top Apple found in an alley. The mistakes remain. On the album’s closer “On I Go,” after a presumed flub, she smiles audibly, “Ah, fuck, shit, oh!” and keeps moving, consistent with the song, and perhaps the album's mantra: “On I go, not toward or away / Up until now it was day, next day / Up until now in a rush to prove / But now I only move to move.”
What precedes it are vignettes and radical experiments in lyrical and audible candor so raw, it’s hard to process in a single listen, let alone a dozen. “You’ve got these stories you’re not telling anybody. Each one of those stories is like this little ball of yarn. If you don’t [express them], they end up getting tangled together inside. Then it’s really hard to sort through them. I got some balls of yarn out in this album and wove them into something I can actually work with,” she told Vulture. More than ever before, and a consistent meditation throughout the album, she unpacks her relationships with and to other women — from a long-ago childhood acquaintance “Shameika,” who altered her development by tell her she “had potential,” to the girlfriends of men she’d once pursued to women more broadly with angry, break-neck “For Her,” which she wrote in the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation.
On “Heavy Balloon,” Apple delivers the most poignant metaphor for living with constant depression and pain: “In the middle of the day, it's like the sun / But the Saharan one, staring me down / Forcing all forms of life inside of me to retreat underground / It grows relentless like the teeth of a rat.” But her vocals cut, growl, rage, and burn and recall the opener’s manifesto: “I want you to use it, blast the music. Bang it! Bite it! Bruise it! Whenever you want to begin, begin. We don't have to go back to where we've been.” On Fetch the Bolt Cutters Apple always ends up emerging triumphant on her own terms, brilliant, funny, affecting, and finally liberated from the bullshit.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.