Creative, witty, chaotic, and brilliant. Those are some of the many words used to describe Fiona Apple’s latest record.
Fiona Apple has triumphantly returned to the spotlight with her fifth studio album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters. This is Apple’s most recent project, having taken an eight year gap after 2012’s highly praised The Idler Wheel(…).
Apple decided to release Fetch the Bolt Cutters during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, much like the chaos that is going on in the world right now, the album embodies the mayhem and disorder through its lyrical content and sound arrangements.
Over the course of the last eight years, Fiona Apple recorded much of Fetch the Bolt Cutters in her Los Angeles home. Further, she provided much of the album’s piano work and percussion herself. Apple’s home isolation during the recording process parallels the frantic feelings of being trapped at home, and you can feel the turmoil in both situations. A frenzy of noises are sprinkled by Apple throughout her fifty-two minute album: off-beat claps, barking, and dolphin-like screeches.
From stomping on wooden chairs, to hitting decorative metal butterflies, these are some of the additional instruments—or objects, rather—that Fiona Apple is credited to have played on the album. The true sense of imagination and originality Apple brings on Fetch the Bolt Cutters reveals that you don’t necessarily need an entire studio to produce a record—you can do this in the comfort of your own home. Many of the objects Fiona uses are all around us as we listen in quarantine.
Many of the ambient noises we hear while sitting at home make their way onto the album: the jingles of dog collars, static buzzing from machines, and random clamor. You can hear the homemade qualities in Fiona’s vocal recordings, especially with the humming bits found at the end of many of the album’s tracks. Segments like these sound as if they were recorded with an iPhone in the midst of immense chatter or while shuffling in the kitchen.
Themes of familial isolation appear on the album, as some of the only other guest musicians consist of Fiona Apple’s sister (Maude Maggart) and brother (Spencer Maggart). The two siblings provide background vocals and floor stomping. You can also hear Fiona’s dogs (Alfie, Leo, Maddie, and Mercy) on the track “Newspaper.” Mercy also appears on the artwork of the album.
Let’s take a look at a few of Fetch the Bolt Cutters’ stand-out moments.
The second track, “Shameika,” encapsulates the mood and tone of what to expect from the album as you listen on. Lyrics like, “my dog and my man and my music is my holy trinity” and “I’m pissed off, funny, and warm” reveal what’s important to Apple, while simultaneously expressing conflicting emotions towards someone. Much like Fiona’s lyrics found within the song, many during quarantine are experiencing warmth and comfort in a pet, a significant loved one, and entertainment. However, many are also confronting feelings of anxiousness and contempt for being around the same people for a highly extended duration of time. Adding to the contradictory lyrics found on “Shameika,” Apple blends muddy drum beats and distorted guitars with riffing piano loops.
Under the Table
“Under the Table” incorporates classic Fiona Apple elements; the track is a well formulated, piano-driven ballad. A droning synth can be heard throughout the song’s composition, which is unconventional for Apple’s music. The catchy refrain of this melody will stick in your head for days: “Kick me under the table all you want. I won’t shut up, I won’t shut up.” When you combine the song’s nostalgic and atmospheric feel, “Under The Table” will endure as a sentimental piece of music when reflecting about this crisis we find ourselves in.
“Heavy Balloon” is perhaps the most musically impressive track found on the record. The extensive layering of percussion provides the skeletal framework for this piece. Fiona sings a very wacky chorus, as she imagines herself “spread[ing] like strawberries” and “climb[ing] like peas and beans.” Despite how silly these similes may seem, “Heavy Balloon” is a song about depression. In the later verses of the tune, Apple dreams of escaping outside of her house, only to be forced back into the dark by the sunlight. All of this figurative language can ring true to the many who are struggling with isolating at home.
Nearing the end of the album, “For Her” truly manifests the essence of Fiona Apple’s wildness. Operatic vocal harmonies, speedily sung lyrics, and electronic-influenced beat changes are sprawled all over this song. The havoc of “For Her” perfectly mirrors the turbulence of society’s current state. After listening to this track, you can’t help but to feel overwhelmed — but that’s what makes it so great!
Fetch the Bolt Cutters has also received widespread acclaim from fans and critics alike. On Metacritic, it is the highest-rated album of all-time as of April 2020 (Metacritic compiles and averages reviews from respected critics, media publications, and users’ submissions). In addition, Apple’s album became Pitchfork’s first 10/10 album since Kanye West’s 2010 effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
In essence, Fiona Apple’s musical outlandishness makes the already awkward quarantine lifestyle both uneasy and exhilarating at the same time. If you’d like to further embrace the turmoil, feel free to check out some of Fetch the Bolt Cutters on KCPR’s curated playlists, Bloom and Moon. Find them, here, on Spotify:
Alex Cambra is a Cal Poly History freshman and KCPR staff member. He wrote the article. Image credit to Fiona Apple.