Fetch The Bolt Cutters — Fiona Apple

The first time I listened to Fiona Apple, I was not impressed. I think I was 11 or 12 and I picked up the CD of Extraordinary Machine on a whim from a library. I vividly remember picking out Gorillaz’ Demon Days as well and I played that CD nonstop. I wouldn’t come back to Fiona for years. Then a few years down the road, I was going through iTunes when I saw that jelly-like closeup of a green flower. I decided to download the entire album and give it a fair chance. And what would you know, I was blown away. Fiona Apple was an artist that conveyed humanity better than anyone else I had ever heard. Buried deep in those weird sounding augmented chords and odd chromatic movements was poetry, alive and pulsing with her incredible voice. Fiona’s music isn’t always pretty. Despite being classically trained, she favours strange chord progressions and erratic sounding movements. Playing piano myself, it was eye-opening to hear how even the wonkiest sounding notes could hold musicality. Just putting two fingers on a keyboard and playing Chopsticks could hold something deeper if Fiona Apple was singing.

Moreover, her singing had a special effect when put together with these strange sounds. The imperfections of her voice felt natural as if stumbling along with her was something we were meant to do. The glint of vulnerability we see in most artists suddenly became a chasm: we saw everything about Fiona, the beautiful and ugly. Her words carried more weight because they felt authentic. The hopeless romanticism didn’t feel so contrived. The pain of breakups cut deeper. The rage was much rawer. Everything was heartfelt because she disregarded any semblance of pop structure. Sure it seems strange but that’s the magic. Each thing has to work together: her voice gliding through different registers, the piano’s subtle but consistent movements, and the intricate background noises that give each song a bit more character.

Over the years, Fiona has combined these strange ideas into something unique and powerful every time. Fetch the Bolt Cutters is no different. In fact, it’s perhaps Fiona’s wackiest sounding album yet. The percussion is all over the place. Half the time you’re thinking to yourself, there’s no way this is on time. Yet, it suspends the song in the air, constantly in danger of collapsing but nonetheless holding it up. Featuring claps, chants, pots, pans, and even the bones of her dead dog, the sounds are reminiscent of a certain naivety: transforming everyday objects into instruments as we did in our youth. As always, the piano evokes emotion in a way that shouldn’t be possible. Fiona hammers the keys, driving home her intense rage, sorrows, and defiance. On “Under The Table”, Fiona refuses to be silenced as she smashes each key hard enough you can feel the hammers on each string. I’m not even sure you’re supposed to pluck bass guitars like that. But of course, all of these instruments would sound nothing more than an awkward march without the most important component: Fiona’s voice.

Fiona is able to contort her voice in ways that don’t really feel human. There’s wailing, screaming, yelling, whispering, and even moments where she sounds like a dolphin. Again, weird as hell. But there’s something utterly enchanting about the way she goes about using her voice as the final instrument. I mean sure, every artist does that. But Fiona’s voice is a little different. Beyond just conveying her emotion, it also acts as a vessel for the instrumentation. The jagged edges of “Newspaper” get a little rougher as she growls about feeling close to another woman having been together with the same abusive man. On “Shameika”, Fiona recalls a schoolmate that simply told her that she had potential. Over and over, Fiona repeats the line “Shameika said I had potential” as if encouraging both her present and past self to overcome her insecurities. “Relay” features Fiona almost sneering with resentment at those who have never cultivated any sort of empathy. Infuriated by the results of the Kavanaugh hearings, you can hear her seething above the syncopated percussion. On “For Her”, Fiona gives voice to women who are disbelieved in the face of sexual assault and the song closes out with an incredible section of multi-tracked vocals.

Twisting and turning her voice to fit each song just right, Fiona’s ability to manipulate the most awkward of sounds always manages to feel natural. She taps into all sorts of topics: death, social media, self-esteem, feminism, sexual assault, and relationships. They all stumble and bump into each other, smashing together to form a whirlwind of emotions. Yet all of it is deliberately precise at the same time. Fiona narrates her experiences like a diary: wildly unpredictable but grounded ultimately by its author. Each of the experiences on Fetch The Bolt Cutters is not just a swirl of bitterness and resentment. There are bits of solidarity and growth as she examines these experiences against the world at large. And most of all, she refuses to be silenced. It’s fucking liberating. Like taking a pair of bolt cutters and freeing yourself from a prison, Fiona frees herself from the expectations that everyone else has put on her. The melodies aren’t always enticing and the percussion is as displaced as they get. But Fiona’s voice always shines through. It’s as confident as it’s ever been and the potential that Shameika saw in a young Fiona is still there, burning bright.

Must Listens: I Want You To Love Me, Cosmonauts, Under the Table


About the Author


I turned my incoherent ramblings on music, anime, and video games into an entire blog.

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