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  • Release Date

    16 April 2020

  • Length

    13 tracks

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Fiona Apple. It was released on April 17, 2020, Apple's first release since The Idler Wheel… in 2012. The album was recorded from 2015 to 2020, largely at Apple's home in Venice Beach. It was produced and performed by Apple alongside Amy Aileen Wood, Sebastian Steinberg and Davíd Garza; recording consisted of long, often-improvised takes with unconventional percussive sounds. GarageBand was used for much of this recording, and Apple credited the album's unedited vocals and long takes to her lack of expertise with the program.

Rooted in experimentation, the album largely features unconventional percussion. While conventional instruments, such as pianos and drum sets, do appear, the album also features prominent use of non-musical found objects as percussion. Apple described the result as "percussion orchestras". These industrial-like rhythms are contrasted against traditional melodies, and the upbeat songs often subvert traditional pop structures.

The album explores freedom from oppression; Apple identified its core message as: "Fetch the fucking bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation you're in". The title, a quote from TV series The Fall, reflects this idea. The album also discusses Apple's complex relationships with other women and other personal experiences, including bullying and sexual assault. It has nevertheless been referred to as Apple's most humorous album.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters was released during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many critics found its exploration of confinement timely. It received significant critical acclaim, and was described as an instant classic and Apple's best work to date. The album received a nomination for Best Alternative Music Album at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards, whilst "Shameika" was nominated for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance. The album debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US Top Alternative Albums and Top Rock Albums, with 44,000 equivalent album units. It also charted in the top 15 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In 2012, after releasing The Idler Wheel…, Apple began conceptualizing a new album, considering a concept album based on her home in Venice Beach or the Pando in Utah.

In February 2015, she began rehearsals for the album with band members Sebastian Steinberg, Amy Aileen Wood and Davíd Garza. They began writing and rehearsing in Apple's Venice Beach home studio, using home-made percussive objects and chanting as they marched around the house.In July, they began recording the album, spending three weeks at the Sonic Ranch studio in rural Texas, where they recorded most of "Relay", "Ladies", "Cosmonauts" and "On I Go". Apple recalled that these sessions were often unproductive, with the band being distracted by magic mushrooms and films. They returned to Los Angeles, working on the material at Stanley Recordings. Apple decided that recording should relocate to her Venice Beach home studio, where they soon returned. She likened her house to "the womb of where I've developed into an adult", so she chose to record the album at home to "repay" the house. She elaborated on the house's presence in the album: "I really felt like it's an instrument in itself, it's the microphone: The house is the microphone, the house is the ambiance, the house is a member of the band". Further sessions for "Newspaper" and "Heavy Balloon" took place at engineer Dave Way's private studio, Waystation.

They recorded long takes consisting of instruments being hit against surfaces and objects; her vocals were unedited, and the album developed a highly percussive sound. The sessions at Apple's home were largely recorded with GarageBand. On the long, unedited takes, Apple commented: "I didn't even know how to edit it and make a take shorter, so each track is just this one long take, and if I made a mistake in it, well, I better just play over it and let that mistake work itself into it". This resulted in what Apple described as "percussion orchestras", especially on "Newspaper" and the title track.

By July 2019, Apple had begun mixing the album. In September, the process began to slow down, with Apple developing doubts about the album. At this time, the artist first mentioned work on her new project in an interview with Vulture, explaining that she was still working hard on her next album which should have been released "a million years ago" and was hoping to put it out in 2020. She also admitted to being reclusive due to ongoing recording sessions at her Venice Beach house.

In January 2020, she played the mixes to her band members, whose positive responses brought Apple back on track. In an interview that month, she said that the album process was in its final stages, with the only things left being "artwork and stuff". In March, she announced that she had finished recording.

The album's sound is defined by percussion. The piano-playing typical to Apple's work is still evident, but takes a more percussive form. As well as drum sets and traditional percussion, the album features the use of found objects as percussion, such as a metal butterfly and the bones of Apple's deceased dog Janet. The experimental rhythms on the album evoke industrial music and are juxtaposed against more traditional melodies. Stereogum's Tom Breihan argues that while percussive music is typically "built around the idea of dancing, of guiding and channeling the rhythms of the human body", the album instead "plays as a wild, feverish attempt to mirror the chaos that goes on in the human mind when it's at its most overheated". Apple has attributed the album's prominent use of percussion to a childhood habit, developed as a part of her obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which she would always walk rhythmically to a strict tempo.

The album has been noted for its experimental approach to pop music. Critics have noted its ambition and originality. Nevertheless, it has been compared to the works of Joni Mitchell,Tom Waits, Nina Simone,and Kate Bush, who is quoted on the title track. The album often rejects popular music's traditional verse-chorus structure. The unpredictable songs feature looped sections, sudden stops and tempo changes.It has been noted as less melancholy than Apple's past work, with the uptempo songs being described as "funny, angry, and at times triumphant".The album features frequent improvisation, as well as background noise such as the barking of dogs, largely as a result of its home recording.

On the album, Apple approached her voice as a musical instrument, commenting: "I have fun with my voice, but I'm not trying to make it pretty all the time. I'm not trying to convince anybody I'm a singer. It just turned out to be another instrument". Breihan noted that Apple demonstrates "a rapper's sense that words can be music", while The Guardian's Laura Barton highlighted the intimacy of Apple's vocals: "half-conversational, half-self-mutters, allowing every scuff, breath and feral yelp". Jon Pareles of The New York Times found that "whether she's cooing with sarcastic solicitousness or rasping close to a scream, she articulates every word clearly, emoting but never losing control".

Lyrically, Apple identified the album's main theme as "not being afraid to speak," with Barton similarly recognizing "a refusal to be silenced". Apple later said that this was an oversimplification, elaborating that "it's about breaking out of whatever prison you've allowed yourself to live in," and pinpointing the message as: "Fetch the fucking bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation you're in". She has said that writing the album helped free her of the ideas she had of herself, explaining that "this whole album, for me, has turned into the headache that I had inside of my head and now that it's released, it's like this pulse that now we can all share". Pareles found that the album explored "both past and present injuries: bullying, sexual assault, destructive mind games, romantic debacles, own fears and compulsions and the people who have taken advantage of them". The album explores freedom, with Breihan writing that "we can hear the euphoria of a great unburdening". The album has also been identified as Apple's most humorous album.

Another theme Apple explores on the album are her complex social relationships with other women. Apple commented that these relationships began to suffer in middle school, and the album features Apple trying to make peace with "the sorts of women that society has always deemed her 'competition'", such as subsequent girlfriends of her exes. Apple summarized this idea as "not letting men pit us against each other or keep us separate from each other so they can control the message"

On March 16, 2020, Apple announced the album and its title in an extensive New Yorker profile. At the start of April, she announced that the album was set to be released digitally on April 17. Epic Records had planned to release the album in October, due to promotional limitations brought by the coronavirus pandemic. However, Apple pushed to release the album early, both for the benefit of listeners who were under self-isolation, and so she could avoid stressful press commitments. Apple's friend King Princess also encouraged the early release. Critics have commented on the timeliness of releasing the album during the pandemic, finding thematic relevance in its exploration of confinement, and comparing Apple's reclusiveness to the widespread self-isolation restrictions.

No singles were issued from the album prior to its release, but "Shameika" was released to adult alternative radio on April 27 as the album's lead single. On November 20, a music video was released for the track, directed by Matthias Brown. The video features the voice of Shameika Stepney, the song's namesake, who reunited with Apple following the album's release. On the same day, Stepney released "Shameika Said", featuring vocals from Apple and samples of "Shameika".

On the US Billboard 200, Fetch the Bolt Cutters debuted at number four with 44,000 equivalent album units, marking the singer's third consecutive top 10 album, and her second-highest charting release; The Idler Wheel… reached number three in 2012. Of that sum, 30,000 are in album sales, 13,000 are in SEA units and less than 1,000 are in TEA units. It also debuted atop the Billboard charts for Top Alternative Albums and Top Rock Albums. Outside of the US, the album reached the top ten in Canada, the top 15 in Australia and New Zealand, the top 40 in Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Scotland, Denmark, the UK and the Flanders region of Belgium, and the top 100 in Austria, Italy and France. Once the physical copies of the album were released in July, the album re-entered the Billboard 200 at number 60 with 6,500 sales. It also debuted at number one on the US Vinyl Album chart, making this her second consecutive album to achieve this.

The lead single "Shameika" peaked at number 19 on the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart in June 2020; it was Apple's first entry on the chart since "Fast as You Can" in January 2000, breaking the record for the longest time between entries on the chart. The album's first five tracks all appeared on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart, as her first ever entries on the chart.

Pitchfork: 10/10

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