The Hidden Rituals of Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters

The world is a fuck. 

By King Lars

It kicks you down and leaves you begging for more. The last resort is to take on this tragedy in true Sisyphean fashion —  by doing it all again. By creating our own insane methods to deal with the chaos can we ever hope to survive. 

Taking the world in stride is a pervasive motif in Fiona Apple’s discography. When news began to circulate about the latest release from the indie darling, a full decade after 2012’s The Idler Wheel, we were already braced, empaths that we are, to bathe in a torrential sentimentality. 

In return, Fiona Apple delivered what can only be said is her most expressive and experimental album to date: Fetch the Bolt Cutters; one that created its own resting place amongst the chaos of the contemporary landscape, calling out for unconditional liberation. The triumphant, defiant refrains of songs like “Under the Table” and “Newspaper acting as arbiters of the seemingly incessant battle of the sexes that have established — and destroyed — the greater public discourse. 

Every drumbeat on the record leaves an imprint in your brain, pulsating and guiding the song as the singer laments, exorcising her inner musings into the microphone. “Relay” is a meditation on chanting, mantric incantations, reminiscent of gospel harmonies, that bring the listener into a state of insane lucidity in articulately curated triplet beats. 

The album has authenticity rivaling the first time you ever used crayons or played with paper mache; a maturation that borders on extremities; a culmination of the familiar and the bizarre that sits comfortably in the current climates: social, political, existential, etc. 

The album began within the four walls of her home-studio at her Venice Beach home back in 2012, a sparse room containing an old, wooden desk and her laptop used to record the skeleton tracks on Garage Band. Aided by her bandmates, including drummer Amy Aileen Wood, bassist Sebastian Steinberg, and guitarist Davíd Garza, Apple created what would later become the genesis of Fetch the Bolt Cutters

The first song recorded for the record was the album closer, “On the Go.” One of the most entrancing songs on the album, it utilizes a 7/4 time signature usually found solely in more experimental outfits like Tool, Frank Zappa, and King Crimson, and was reportedly inspired by a Vipassana chant. Apple revealed in an expose with the New Yorker that the song was constructed by a melody that she sang into her phone while hiking in Topanga Canyon. She then went home and convened with her band members, rifling through old lyric books, and innately banging out the intoxicating rhythm on an assortment of makeshift percussion instruments. This form of therapeutic bonding seemed to create a basis for the record that would grow and become a living incantation of the artist’s life and times. 

After leaving a brief recording session at the Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas, outside of El Paso, Apple ventured back into more familiar ground to re-record and re-work the tracks back at her home in Venice Beach. There she toiled endlessly, adding the percussion that operates as the album’s trademark endlessly recording vocal takes, which were created by channeling her OCD rituals that Apple practiced as a child, or as Apple herself put it in her interview with the New Yorker, “like crunching leaves and counting breaths, or roller-skating around her dining-room table eighty-eight times—the number of keys on a piano.” The singer-songwriter contorted and manipulated her voice into a novel instrument, recording her tracks over and over again, in a way that can be compared to the style of English producer Joe Meek, who famously required that his musicians track multiple takes throughout the day in order to induce them into a semi-coherent state of musical lucidity. 

At its core, Fetch the Bolt Cutters exudes a personal dissatisfaction with the status quo. A call to arms for the disaffected through intimate means. The mythos of the folk singer reborn in the heart of an expert songwriter with a message that needs to be heard. 

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