If there is one artist and one album that doesn't need my judgement of their art for validation (well, okay this applies to all artists), it's Fiona Apple and her new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters. After 8 years, Apple is back with her most expressive and experimental album yet. "Fetch the Bolt Cutters" isn't just the title, it's the entire theme of the record. Often times, you can tell when an artist is at their creative peak. It's rare when an artist appears to be at their peak state of self-expression. Apple uses music as a tool of expression like never before. While her vocals sound like they flow independently from the piano keys or drum beats, in the end, each avenue that each instrument takes end up leading to the same point. It's like a Jackson Pollock painting in musical form.
"I Want You to Love Me," is the perfect track to kick off the album. Apple delivers a beautiful and bright melody throughout the verse, but once it hits the chorus, it begins to follow down a darker path that contradicts the tone she's setting you up with the opening keys of her piano. Even the way she holds a note for a bar longer than you'd expect kind of shakes your assumptions on how the rest of the album will sound. It's when the bridge comes in that the picture as a whole begins to take shape with its percussive beats that prepare you for the following track, "Shemeika." The entire album is very heavy on the percussion and is one of the shining aspects of the record that make it stand out among her other works. "Shemeika" has a strong swagger and very hoppy and encompasses some of my favorite lyrics on the album. The construction of the lyrics;
"In class I'd pass the time
Drawing a slash for every time the second hand went by
A group of five
Done twelve times was a minute
Shameika said I had potential"
and how she gets it to accompany the rhythm is genius.
Title track, "Fetch the Bolt Cutters" is a slam poem with a unique vocal performance. Apple bounces between slurring her vocals and transforming it into having control of her voice when the song asks for it with beautiful harmonies. While the song is very subdued, it comes to a head at the end when you begin to hear barking dogs, which was actually a mistake. There were dogs in a room near to where she was recording and they just happened to bark at the perfect moment. It's one of those indelible moments in recording that captures the theme and just happened to be a goof at the same time. Another favorite of mine is, "Relay," which is driven by layers of percussion, claps, and stomping. Again, Fiona Apple is delivering genius lyrics with:
"Evil is a relay sport, when the one who's burned, turns to pass the torch"
A line she wrote when she was 15. I wouldn't say it's her most aggressive vocal performance on the record, I'd probably give that to "Heavy Balloon," but there's a certain tension that builds up each time it transitions between chorus, verse, and pre-chorus that has a subtle anger to it.
More drum driven tracks like, "Rack of His" and "Newspaper" pull the album forward. Eventually we reach "Cosmonauts," which sounds like a "classic," Lounge focused, Fiona Apple. A beautiful track filled with stress and resentment. It was originally written for a Judd Apatow movie in 2012 that she re-recorded, which may be why it sounds different from most of the album, although it still blends in well.
As we start to reach the end of the record, Apple still continues to surprise with, "For Her." A primarily speedy acappella number with a drum beat occasionally chiming in to help manage the staggering time signatures the track goes through. The only thing I wish this album would have done is switched the final two tracks. "Drumset" sounds like a song that could have rounded this album out perfectly. There's a finality to it that isn't present in the final track, "On I Go," which actually sounds like it could have been a good companion to "For Her."
After two and a half decades into her career, Fiona Apple may have just released her best album yet with Fetch the Bolt Cutters. Like I said at the start of this, she doesn't need my opinion on her art for validation. That's what makes this album so great. It's about breaking free and expressing yourself as creatively as you can. It's an inspiring and unforgiving piece of work and easily one of the best of the year.
9.0 / 10
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Posted Aug. 13, 2013, 11:22 p.m.
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