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CD of The Week

Week of 4/20/20

    Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Epic)

    Fiona Apple knows. Fiona Apple always knew. For close to a quarter of a century, she's been trying to let the rest of us in on the open secret she learned at a very young age: "This world is bullshit." While that dose of hard truth didn't workshop well when broadcast on live television in 1997, it's gotten harder and harder to argue against it with each passing year and fresh hell that said world has suffered and slumped through. All the while, the patriarchal perpetrators of them continued to skate by unscathed. In fact, agreement on the sentiment is arguably at an all-time high in the wake of Trump, #MeToo, and now, continuous confinement to our homes. It's in this state of stagnation that Fiona brings us her newest masterpiece. Fetch the Bolt Cutters. As relevant and riveting as anything she or anyone else of her artistic caliber has ever released, it serves as both a balm and a battle cry for these uncertain, unsettling times, sitting in a miraculous nexus of righteous anger, rollicking experimentation, and radical empathy.

    Bringing the rawness of 2012's The Idler Wheel... back to the fertile ground of her original, Jon Brion-assisted Extraordinary Machine demos, Apple captures the perfect soundtrack for both the claustrophobia of quarantine and the manic stream of conscious thoughts that can come with it. Rather than settle into ordinary verse/chorus/verse structures, these songs slither and scurry like living organisms in the vein of Joni Mitchell circa The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Percussion pitter-patters like restless feet eager for escape. Vocals yammer and yelp like those angry, anxious voices in your head do, whether you want them to or not. While physical escape from our situation may be a non-starter for the time being, Apple, who was practicing her own form of sheltering in place a good few years before it became a life or death necessity for everyone else, opts to offer a release of the emotional kind.

    Specifically, she continues to offer release for anyone who's suffered aggressions, both micro and macro, at the hands of uncaring men. "Under the Table" is an anthem for anyone who's had a shitty boyfriend try to silence them in mixed company, while the harrowing "Newspaper" extends knowing condolence and camaraderie to anyone unfortunate enough to fall into an abusive relationship with someone after you. Elsewhere, she unloads directly on both the abusers (the climactic caterwaul in "For Her", written after Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings, is one for the books), and their enablers, as she does on "Relay" where her resentment of those who would present life as anything sunnier than it currently is unchallenged hits as hard as its lumbering, Nina Simone-indebted rhythm.

    With all of the emotion and experimentation already on display, you'd think there would be little room for anything else. Yet still, Apple managed to make space for arguably the most daring feeling of all right now: gratitude. An online debate is already well underway around who and where "Shameika" is, but the song dedicated to her is a thundering 'thank you' to the small gestures and encouragement that often prove pivotal in your most formative moments. In her own way, Fiona Apple is a Shameika for all of us. She didn't have to release this album right now, but she knew we needed it. She knew we needed comfort and catharsis in the worst possible way and has provided it in the best possible way. She won't bullshit us about the state of the world, but that honestly and assurance that she's right there with us provides its own kind of freedom. So, fetch the bolt cutters. Let yourself go in this album and live in it for a while. Lord knows we've got nothing but time.

    Review by Rob Huff

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