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Jeff Walker Reviews the New Fiona Apple: “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”

"Fetch the Bolt Cutters" is what happens when a person figures out what confidence or self-worth can be found away from the spotlight.

Fiona Apple “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” (Epic)

On April 17th, Fiona Apple surprised the music world and released her first new record in 8 years. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is daring and shatters the pop-song structures that once grounded her. No music has ever sounded quite like it.

Maybe this release is not for everyone, but for longtime fans “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” will not disappoint. Released with little warning eight years after 2012’s “The Idler Wheel,” the album sees the now-42-year-old songwriter proving that she’s still more than capable of telling off partners, detractors, and others who have done her wrong, all while picking apart the inner workings of her frantic mind. What sets “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” apart from its predecessors is that, for the first time, the scales tip more toward resilience than agony. “I thought that being blacklisted would be grist for the mill, until I realized I’m still here,” Apple admits on the title track — a line that she improvised and kept around because, as she told The New Yorker, she thought it was embarrassing. “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” is what happens when a person figures out what confidence or self-worth can be found away from the spotlight.

“She wanted to start from the ground”

This is a very communal album right down to the recording and production that took place almost entirely at her house in Venice Beach, California. On “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” she enlists a small backing band — guitarist Davíd Garza, bassist Sebastian Steinberg, and drummer Amy Aileen Wood — with much of the album stemming from “jam sessions” in which all four musicians would bang on household objects. “She wanted to start from the ground,” Garza has said of the recording process. “For her, the ground is rhythm.”

The percussive approach to the album keeps the potential chaos afloat. You remember every drum beat on this record and each musical decision feels as sharp and precise as Apple’s lyrics, from the gospel harmonies that chant over triplet beats on “Relay,” to the invigorating dog barks and cat meows that punctuate “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” to the ominous hum that opens “Newspaper.” Multiple tracks will heighten suddenly into a roaring climax before fading out into a quiet interlude pieced with guitar-noodling and ad-libs in the background. Amid the cymbal crashes and booms during “On I Go,” these sounds and voices come and go, taking up space and residence in Apple’s house before fading out in their own distinctive way.

A Newfound Levity in Her Voice

For die-hard Fiona Apple fans, the newfound levity in her voice goes beyond reassuring; at this grand of a scale, it’s uncharted territory for Apple, and a sign of maturity for an artist who has already solidified her place as an independent artist.

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One gets the sense that after all this time, Apple finally knows what, or who, she’s really fighting for. On album opener “I Want You to Love Me” Apple sings a rallying cry for anyone who’s grasped at meaning in her words, depicting the relationship as a two-way street. “And I know that you know that you’ve got the potential to pick me up,” she sings, her voice ragged. “And I want you to use it, blast the music, bang it, bite it, bruise it.” Elsewhere, in the transition from “Relay” to “Rack of His,” Apple’s wispy falsetto appears in an iPhone recording.

Apple Has Never Sounded More Sure of Herself

The retrospection on “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” cements various personal feelings as tools for solidarity, sisterhood, and self-discovery. 15 years later, Apple has never sounded more sure of herself, and that alone is cause for celebration. Key tracks are “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”, “Under the Table,” “Ladies,” and “Cosmonauts”.

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