Fiona Apple’s been around for a long time, releasing her 1996 debut album Tidal at the age of 18. But she’s not prolific – Fetch the Bolt Cutters is only her fifth record, making each Apple release feel like an event. April’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters has proved especially major – in a fractured music scene, it’s dominated conversations about the year’s best record.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters deviates from Apple’s usual piano-driven music in favour of a percussion-heavy sound. The percussion came from found objects including baked seedpods and the bones of Apple’s deceased dog. Apple often initiated the tracks from basic recordings on her phone and, despite contributions by band-mates like bassist Sebastian Steinberg and multi-instrumentalist David Garza, the tracks retain the raw feeling of demos. Model Cara Delevingne, Apple’s sister Maude Maggart, and Apple’s dog Mercy are also credited with vocal contributions.
Musically, Fetch the Bolt Cutters resembles 1980s Tom Waits, as well as tracks like ‘Hot Knife’ from Apple’s previous record The Idler Wheel…. Apple is a more supple vocalist than Waits, however, and it’s her dramatic cabaret-style singing that gives Fetch the Bolt Cutters a distinctive flavour. First track ‘I Want You To Love Me’ is piano-based, but features some of Apple’s most extreme vocalising with her high pitched machine-gun impersonations at the conclusion.
Apple’s fascinating lyrically, and Fetch the Bolt Cutters moves is both insular and inspirational. Some songs like are directly inspired by minutiae in Apple’s life; in the case of ‘Drumset’, by bandmate and engineer Amy Aileen Wood borrowing Apple’s drumset without asking. The title is taken from an episode of TV series The Fall, and serves as a metaphor for freedom. Apple references another female auteur, Kate Bush, on the title track, singing “I need to run up that hill, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will.”
Most of these tracks are memorable thanks to Apple’s striking lyrics and vocal experiments. ‘Heavy Balloon’ addresses depression and uses a jazzy template with unexpected key changes. The stacked vocals on ‘For Her’ are effective, almost a capella apart from some percussion. ‘Relay’ rollicks along on a bed of percussion as Apple declares that “evil is a relay sport”.
Fetch the Bolt Cutters isn’t quite my favourite record of the year, and it may not even end up as my favourite album from Apple. Nonetheless, it’s a notable addition to a fascinating catalogue that marks Apple as one of the most significant acts to emerge in the 1990s. Releasing a record that sounds somewhat original is an achievement in a congested market.
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Nice, thanks for posting this. I love her stuff, and was curious about the new one. Fun fact: her album Tidal was the second CD I ever bought.
It’s got a lot of praise everywhere – will be topping lots of end of year lists I think.
I was on it a bit later than you – I didn’t get into her until someone gave me a copy of When The Pawn…
Year end lists! Wow! Awesome.
Doesn’t matter when you got there, it matters that you did! 🙂
I saw her at a club show in ’96 or ’97, and the sultry sounds of hers I was hearing on the radio were betrayed by her 18-year-old stage personae. Pretty amazing talent, though. I was surprised to see her name in the credits on the new Dylan album.
I can imagine her being awkward on stage at the best of times, let alone at 18. She’s pretty clearly established as one of the best acts to come out from the 1990s, especially releasing an acclaimed record in her 40s.
She used the bones of her dead dog? Wow!
Reminds me on when Keith Richards snorted his father’s ashes…
Holy cow, that’s even more weird. I hadn’t heard that story before!
Someone needs to make a list like “Ten Weirdest Things Musicians Did With Dead Things- You Literally Won’t Believe #8”.
I do like the thick percussion in the back. Her voice jumps out at you. I remember when she came out in the 90s with Criminal and then I just stopped hearing about her for a while.
The album title is a keeper.
I think her releases do generally get critical attention, but maybe not as much radio play now.
Have but one of hers. But not being a huge Tom Waits fan, I wonder about this one. Worth investigating further?
I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it – do you have the previous one? It kind of follows on from some of the a capella/percussion songs on there.
Glad to see her still putting out stuff, sorry it isn’t her best.
It’s more that I haven’t spent enough time with the others to decide which I like best.
This thing got fantastic reviews so I decided to give it a listen when it was released. And I do like her singing. But boy, this didn’t do it for me.
I’ve only got Tidal so far (and it’s a keeper) – I like that 1 album per almost 5 year average, why rush!
Feels like 2005’s Extraordinary Machine is the Apple record that’s not as loved as the others – but seems like working slowly has helped her keep quality up.
Something to be said for Quality over Quantity!