Fetch the Bolt Cutters, Fiona Apple’s first album in eight years, feels pent up.
You can hear it in the chorus of the title track.
You can hear it in Shameika’s buoyant beat and whiplash lyrics that reach back to her childhood to work out the bullying she encountered at school.
And you can hear it in the stories she tells – hers and those of others – that have shaped the #MeToo movement.
That said, Fetch the Bolt Cutters couldn’t feel more of the moment.
An album articulating societal pandemics for our pandemic times recorded entirely at home with little embellishments that are the equivalent of your cat jumping into frame during a Zoom meeting.
In that way, it is a bracing work, and one that COVD-19 has made it possible to really spend time with, having shut down society in so many ways.
Even so, I suspect I’d be sitting with it quite a bit under any circumstances.
Although Fetch the Bolt Cutters plays, at times, like a catharsis, it is surprisingly bouncy and energetic.
In an interview with Vulture, Apple noted that walking and hiking have been constants in her life, not just for rumination but also for her craft.
And you can really hear that here.
Songs wind like mountain paths.
It’s all somewhat bumptious, but once you find your footing, the album is forgiving, in part because her melodic sense is still strong.
Listen close enough and you can still hear echoes of early work like Shadowboxer, a song that suggested she could be a torch singer for our times.
But that torch is being wielded here in a different way.
Apple is shining a light on lovers real and imaginary, the ways we hold ourselves – and others – back, and the way that men pit women against each other, or just destroy them through manipulation and violence.
It should feel claustrophobic, but it isn’t.
In part because the music is so kinetic, so elastic, so restless.
But also because Apple sounds like she is in a good place after troubled times.
Every song, every line, feels like hard-won wisdom.
A testimony of survival.
All of it suffused with a sense of adventure and playfulness.
That comes through in the last song, when she not only shrugs off an error but announces she moves not to prove anything but just for the sheer joy that she can move.
It’s a notice that she is living on her terms, something that comes through in every note and word.
In that way, it feels healing, like a balm for all of us who are cut off, shut away, trying not to get sick in a world that is very, very sick.
Each rollicking, wordy song, as evocative in some ways of Scott Walker’s lyric-driven approach to music as it is to Laura Nyro’s fearless refusal to hold fast to conventional song form, acts very much like a set of bolt cutters, in that it has the potential to liberate you from your situation if you listen long enough.
And I’ve listened long enough that it feels like the year’s best album.