Take 1:

To call Fiona Apple’s album “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” guttural is a grotesque simplification. And yet, each track — from the playful shriek of “I Want You to Love Me” to the confident growl of “Under the Table” — feels like a gem that has spent years crystalizing in the songwriter’s throat. I get the sense that Apple once choked on the words she now sings full-throttle. 

The first time I listened to the album, I reveled in its strength. There is a mature and reflective cadence to both the lyrics and the sound. “On I go, not toward or away now I only move to move,” concludes Apple in the final track “On I Go.” For someone who seems to have long reckoned with the way her perhaps too-feeling body collides with an unfeeling world, the removal from spatial direction could be the artist’s ultimate form of empowerment.

But Apple would never tie a neat bow around anything she gifts to listeners. Such an act – presenting her album constrained in an acrylic satin ribbon – would be like swaddling a baby in a straightjacket. Apple doesn’t do easy. She does real. Maybe that’s why “Ah, fuck, shit,” an honest slip of the tongue, exists alongside the methodical chant, “Now I only move to move.” Certainly, Apple knows herself better than she did eight years ago. But whatever she experienced in the time since “The Idler Wheel…,” whatever moved Apple to produce, should not be mistaken for the pleasure of self-knowledge. Because out of everything it seems Apple now knows — that she had always had potential, for example — it’s clearly her pain that takes the cake for artistic actualization.

Everything in “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” throbs with Apple’s lifetime of discomfort. You hear her obsessive-compulsive disorder in “Shameika” as she recalls “grinding my teeth to a rhythm invisible” and “drawing a slash for every time the second hand went by a group of five.” Many of the tracks, too, will certainly be lauded as anthems for survivors of abuse, strong women who have tussled with evil.

Apple undresses her wounds without any aspiration to let the light in. At this point, I think Apple knows that she is enough to be her own sun. If she doesn’t, then she definitely knows that a rapturous upheaval of moving earth will always suffice when the sun doesn’t want to come out and play.

Ella Attell | ella.attell@yale.edu

 

Take 2:

Amid the musical parallels that came to mind while listening to “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” at different times Tom Waits, Yoko Ono, Stevie Nicks — the artist I find most consistently equivalent is Bjork. Like Bjork’s “Medulla,” this album embraces the strength of the voice; vocal performances, both Fiona’s own and those of various guest singers, are these songs’ pulse, moving confiently from howling to crooning to scatting to barking to practically rapping to, well, making dolphin noises. Her voice becomes an eruption in the hollers of “For Her,” haunts the end of “Relay,” flexes riotously on the chorus of “Newspaper” — and somehow, throughout all its admirable abrasiveness, sings catchier melodies than I’ve heard in most pop songs this year. With an actor’s versatility, her voice leaps from mood to mood, using its platform to provide urgency to the stories she tells.

Here she departs from the ethereal poetry of my Icelandic comparison. Fiona’s lyrics are physical to the point of discomfort, conjuring Saharan suns, kicks under the table, anger thrown out through the doors of Ferris wheels, guitar necks stretched out like legs of rockets, and the titular fetched bolt cutters — an image whose grisly viscerality contains the album’s mood within it.

To keep Fiona’s voice and its stories at the album’s forefront, the rest of the instrumentation is kept bare, though it is also wonderful. The backdrop is a landscape of rugged rhythms that build through added layers (“Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” “Relay”) and mounting speed (“Newspaper”) until they seem ready to collapse — though that sense of tension building towards cacophony, even on the concluding track, never fully blows over and resolves. Fiona’s substitution of percussion in place of the piano that usually backs her seems emblematic of the general transition she has made on this album, from intriguingly strange to bombastically unsettling. It’s a direction she was going in with 2012’s “The Idler Wheel,” but here, she has taken the edgy core of her sound and confidently pushed it the furthest it’s ever been. For all the pop sensibility and effortless earworms Fiona brings to her songwriting, the booming metallic swagger of the tracks on “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” makes them remind me most of a rock album — sounding as if, with the marching snares behind her, Fiona is off to battle.

Daniel Blokh | daniel.blokh@yale.edu